In The Batcave With Mr & Mrs Fiend: Alien Sex Fiend On Goth & Marriage
, September 8th, 2010 09:38
Nix Lowrey talks to Nik and Christine Wade, aka Mr and Mrs Fiend, about the history of Alien Sex Fiend and their new album Death Trip
Numero uno shoulder-rub for the new wave of dark wave circa 1979, The Batcave provided sonic sanctuary for punk refugees who had held onto their subversive sensibilities and thus couldn't face the prospect of dancing to Kid Creole and The Coconuts or Spandau Ballet. As London mythology goes, snotty-nosed punk gave way to the flash trash of new romance, The Blitz Club, the synth 'revolution' of the futurists, art rock, men in lipstick and acceptable avarice. The disenchanted formed their own club: one where the disheveled and haphazard bumped with the belligerent and discontented, and a haven for maudlin and misanthropic misfits with a fascination for '50s horror and a closet penchant for the psychedelic...
Run by Ollie Wisdom from Specimen, and favoured watering hole of Robert Smith, Siouxsie Sioux, Nick Cave and Marc Almond amongst others, the Batcave defined the gothic attitude and embraced the histrionic pomp of Romantic poetry and neo-occult gesticulations, the violent decadence of preraphaelite art with the 5p noir novels of the '30s, late night horror films, nihlism and Nietzsche. It was a movement emerging with its own lengthy subtext and a surfeit of black clothing which would come to define itself as a dress code, a movement, a set of cultural expectations later described as 'gothic rock' but then was just known as 'Batcave'. Only Ian Astbury, in a 1994 interview with The Alternative Press, says any different:
"The Goth tag was a bit of a joke," insists Ian Astbury. "One of the groups coming up at the same time as [Southern Death Cult] was Sex Gang Children, and Andi -- he used to dress like a Banshees fan, and I used to call him the Gothic Goblin because he was a little guy, and he's dark. He used to like Edith Piaf and this macabre music, and he lived in a building in Brixton called Visigoth Towers. So he was the little Gothic Goblin, and his followers were Goths. That's where Goth came from."
For an effective summation of the club's attitude and influence, look no further than the liner notes of their 1983 compilation album Young Limbs and Numb Hymns:
"Look past the slow black rain of a chill night in Soho; Ignore the lures of a thousand neon fire-flies, fall deft to the sighs of street corner sirens — come walk with me between heaven and hell. Here there is a club lost in its own feverish limbo, where sin becomes salvation and only the dark angels tread. For here is a BATCAVE. This screaming legend of blasphemy, Lechery, and Blood persists in the face of adversity. For some the Batcave has become an icon, but for those that know it is an iconoclast, it is the avenging spirit of nightlife's badlands — its shadow looms large over London's demi-Monde: It is a challenge to the false Idol. It Will Endure."
Sadly, the early creative nexus couldn't endure: mirroring punk's commercialisation, The Batcave and its personalities garnered media attention which saw goth accessories hitting tourist shops and The Sisters Of Mercy hitting the charts before half a decade was out, and goth became perceived as a parodic caricature in panstick and PVC.
Behind the bar and later on the stage at the Batcave was one Mr Nik Wade, who became known - for reasons mostly self-evident - as Nik Fiend. Already having cut his pointed teeth on a couple of bands before, Nik and Christine Wade - aka Mrs Fiend - formed Alien Sex Fiend at the time when Nik allegedly worked as the Batcave's barman.
Allegedly, but not actually. Nik and Mrs Fiend firmly set straight the tangled web of recollections and hearsay for The Quietus as they consider their new album Death Trip and its place in 30 year lexicon of horrorbilly/gothpunk...
Nik Fiend: I wasn’t the barman, I ran the place. We’d started making music and came up with the name Alien Sex Fiend along with doing artwork and so on - it was already happening before The Batcave came along. The Batcave was the perfect place to lay the golden egg. It fitted with the way we were thinking at that time: it was almost like the club had been invented specially for us. At that time  we were into The Cramps, Bauhaus, Killing Joke and The Birthday Party, and watching B-movies on TV or at The Scala cinema in King’s Cross. I didn’t want to compete with those things - I wanted to do OUR version of them. The Batcave was a hybrid of all of those things plus glam rock and they had an early version of a chill out room.
Mrs Fiend: Where they played our demo tapes [later released as The Legendary Batcave Tapes album] as the soundtrack to old black and white 8mm horror movies.
NF: You went up in a small lift, then walked through a coffin which formed the entrance to the club – I was home. I had made records and done art before, but Alien Sex Fiend for me was like the burning of my bra - I could really swing ‘em after that.
MF: Regulars there were people like Youth [from Killing Joke].
NF: We first met our current live sound engineer, Harvey Birrell, there, [and] he’s now a well known producer. There was Siouxsie and Severin from The Banshees.
MF: They were at our first gig as well as the Sex Gang Children.
NF: Marc Almond was supportive, he gave us a great review for our 'R.I.P.' single. Jimmy Pursey [Sham 69] did our sound at our second gig at Heaven.
MF: Nick Cave used to have long chats with Nik there.
NF : A lad called Turret ended up doing lights for us on a later US tour. Linda Rowell took loads of photos of those days. Kris Needs [DJ and writer] became a friend from that time; Zodiac Mindwarp [before he became Zodiac], Flesh For Lulu, and of course Olli and the other guys from the band, Specimen, who ran the club. They gave me a job managing the Batcave when they went over to America on tour. We’d have two bands on - by that time the club had grown and moved from Soho to the much larger venue The Subway in Leicester Square. I also did DJing there and was responsible for putting the props up. In some ways it was competitive, in that everyone was trying to get on, to move forward, but also everyone put forward ideas, gave something to it. It was like a nuclear explosion when it all happened.
MF: There were all types of people that went there, all in that one place interacting. There were’t a whole load of different clubs at that time, so fetish people, gay people, anyone 'different'...
NF: Any outsiders would go there. I had been in punk bands prior to ASF, and had played with loads of different people, but usually they wanted to get a major record deal and do what everyone else had done. The problem with that is that other people had already been there and done it, so it wasn’t original. Also I wasn’t interested in virtuoso playing or being a virtuoso myself. I didn’t want to just be a singer; it’s one part of what I do. I wouldn’t want to stand about doing hours and hours every day of vocal training or something! I wanted to make more records and gradually I found other people who I could work with who weren’t into technical areas of music – they just loved music and wanted to make their own racket, in their own way.
MF: I hadn’t planned on ever being _in_ a band. I would‘ve been happy working behind the scenes, which I’d been doing prior to ASF anyway, but what Nik was getting up to sounded very interesting and my job description when I started was to "play a few notes on the keyboard, make weird noises and bang a bit of percussion" - and I maintain that that is still what I do now. [Laughs] Though it’s become a lot more involved than that over the years.
NF: When Mrs F came into ASF, it seemed to get a proper backbone. Before that it was a little like jelly - there was nothing wrong with it [and] it needed a core. She provided that.
Apparently, Alien Sex Fiend aren't goth - or at least, weren't goth until the music press got to the idea and branded it for the masses, according to Mrs Fiend. Nik, meanwhile, reinforces the idea of synergy and happenstance: the world needed this conglomeration of PVC-clad visionaries and, lo, it was so...
NF: If Batcave/Gothic rock wasn’t necessary it wouldn’t have happened. No amount of hype can make something last for a sustained period; there has to be a common ground for something to last. The fact that the gothic thing is so diverse has been a factor. Some people are into it because there are wiccan elements, or folk/acoustic leanings, or electronics, right through to more of the death metal side, so there are a lot of aspects to it as a genre. It’s very diverse, that is why it’s had that longevity. It is necessary to have an outlet. If you are the only one into horror movies, gravestones, and other people think you’re a weirdo, to then find other people who also like whatever aspects of the darker side – those are people you can share things with, with a purpose - making music or art or whatever - rather than thinking there’s something wrong with you. We didn’t go out of our way to cultivate anything - it just happened.
MF: Back in the Batcave days, it wasn’t called gothic. They just called us a Batcave band. Later on, the term started to be used in a derogatory way, especially by the music media. Whoever was into us and the other bands coming through at that time ignored those comments and carried enjoying what they were enjoying, regardless.
NF: They didn’t really need the media to act as a sign post for them. The fans discovered the music for themselves and have stayed true to it. There weren’t any gothic magazines or gothic festivals, there was nothing like that back then.
MF: As time has gone on, and as the music has broadened, loads of bands that would not have been considered gothic at the time have been drawn into its scope – people like Nick Cave.
NF: Even Siouxise - she was a punk, not a goth. But her image fitted with the gothic look I suppose, and she’s included now. Even The Cure were considered to be alternative in the US yet more of a pop band over here in the UK, but they get included now. So it’s like a web...
MF: A spider’s web - how goth [laughs].
NF: Yeah! So it’s ever growing and evolving, and it ain’t showing any signs of stopping. After all you can’t kill what’s dead already [laughs].
With London awash with the sound of the living undead, some solitary mournful A flat chords could be perceived ringing in the New Sound in far flung towns. Whilst there is often no love lost between London and its satellites, apparently love of fishnet conquered all, at least in the nascent period of the early '80s...
MF: We didn’t see a divide at that time… or since.
NF: We knew Ben - the original guitarist in the Sisters Of Mercy - was a big fan of ours and Simon from the March Violets was into us too. We were into both of their stuff as well and we’ve still got those records. They were both from up north. We always had a good reception there. People are people, wherever and everywhere. We never found any problem.
MF: A lot of our road crew have come from up north over the years. People are always trying to claim that they invented 'whatever' - I don’t think any one person or place invented or started it, it was one of those synergy things. Like punk: all sorts of people started bands that sounded punk at the same sort of time. It was a feeling in the air. Gothic is the same I think. There was no plan, it was an organic thing, which just grew.
NF : Everyone has their own view. Just because they're a goth doesn't necessarily like Alien Sex Fiend…
MF: We have too much humour for some people, I think. Or they are more into the poetry, melodic or romantic side of goth and we’re too punk or spacey or industrial for their taste.
Whether by chemical experiments or just a positive feedback mechanism, there was no shortage of brilliant schemes and doomed sonic experiments hatched within the Batcave's confines. The Fiends contributed one of the lesser known bijoux to an environment replete with oddities: the eleven inch single.
MF: We had a meeting with our record label who wanted to discuss the next single. They wanted to do 12" and 7" single versions of 'E.S.T. (Trip To The Moon)', but Nik wanted to do another 10" like 'R.I.P”/”New Christian Music'. Cue argument...
NF: The argument went back and forth. I wasn’t being awkward for the sake of it, I was probably being overly artistic for the record company’s liking – but what’s new? Ha! So in the end I said, 'What about a compromise?' They said, 'How do you mean?' So I said, 'How about an eleven inch?'
MF: Unbelievably, they agreed. But they had to make it a limited edition single, because they had to manufacture a 12" and then get 1 inch cut off all the way around - it was costing too much money.
Whilst there are plenty of X + Y synth outfits working the charts in 2010, it is still quite an unusual setup to see the boy cavorting in becausetumes and the girl skulking behind a bank of equipment making with the jiggerypokery of sound. Mrs Fiend was expressly recruited for her beat-pasting abilities, and has always been chief machinist for ASF. It's not a clean divide: Mrs Fiend graceful acknowledges Nik's continued assistance.
MF: Well actually the line between Nik and my departments isn’t that strictly drawn. He does come up with beat ideas as well, but I am the one who makes sure the timing is right or the loop sits properly etc. Also he plays more guitar now so he comes up with the tune parts sometimes. Also, though he does more on the production, engineering and mixing side, we often swop what we call 'the driver’s seat', so we work more hand in hand than you would think. On one song I might write or play more, but on another it’s the other way round.
NF: There’s no set pattern to how we write songs. It doesn’t matter where the idea comes from or who started it: if we believe in it, we stay with it. We keep that moment where you go 'Ooh that’s it' – we keep to that original spark, trap it.
MF: A lot of people seem to fiddle about from that idea and lose that spark. I’ve actually seen people do it in front of my eyes. Then that spark is lost. Sorry, back to the point – yes there was a fair bit of discrimination – not just from music side but also on the business side. But to be honest I was too busy doing it to be very bothered about people’s arcane attitudes. Plus if you do go on about it, you become a nagging woman, so the best thing to do is to just get on with it and prove yourself over time. In the early days I had engineers and crew (not ours) ask what the fuck some keyboard is, and say I can’t plug that in, I can’t record that etc. I'm fairly sure they wouldn’t have said it to a bloke. After all, it's not like I invented keyboard for God's sake - they’ve been around a long time.
We were considered weird anyway because we didn’t have a bass player, and then when they found a girl was where the bass player was supposed to be and, even worse, she’s playing synthesisers... well! I had always thought (mistakenly, obviously) that music was a barrier breaking business. It was, and still is, amazingly sexist, but then as a bird you have to understand that although you personally might be flying the flag for women’s liberation, there are unfortunately other women out there who do flaunt their bits, sleep with the boss of the record company, etc, so it’s not surprising that the chaps won’t take us seriously until you prove yourself. And that takes a long time.
Now, I get the audience chanting "Mrs Fiend, Mrs Fiend" at me… it’s funny, because it was a joke name that Specimen (from The Batcave) made up about me in a little song: "Mrs Fiend, Mrs Fiend, brew up a cup, Mrs Fiend, Mrs Fiend, hurry up". In other words, girls are only there to make the tea. I was pissed off at first, but Nik said: "Well, you wanted a name and we are married, and I’m Nik Fiend, so you may as well be Mrs Fiend." So, that was that. Funny, ain’t it? Before I end this I have to give Poison Ivy from The Cramps the thumbs up - another woman who has just got on with it. Without her I wouldn’t have done this.
It may seem astonishing that an act like Alien Sex Fiend, who have maintained an underground following but have never attempted to develop a more commercial identity, are still as committed to their vision 30 years on. Whether it is a case of safe territory or an unfading passion, the Fiends are committed to continuing.
NF: Alien Sex Fiend – all the time – has meant total freedom. I can’t branch out any further than I already have. If I woke up and decide to be totally bluegrass on a Monday morning, then that is exactly what I’m going to do and I will do it as ASF. I have no need to go and make a solo album, because I can do exactly what I want to do with in ASF.
MF: Same here, and it’s now 28 years...
NF: ASF has always been the outlet for what me and Mrs Fiend do. To other people I will always be 'Nik Fiend' anyway, so it would be pointless to go by another name.
MF: I suppose that something like Inferno [1994 computer game soundtrack album] was a different project from the 'usual' ASF, but the guy we worked with in collaboration on that was Barry Leitch – a massive ASF fan anyway - so when we were writing together we could back-reference ASF songs or sounds that he already knew as a common starting point. There was talk about the soundtrack album being released under another name because it was a bit different and instrumental, but then the reason Barry had asked us to work on it with him was because he wanted his name linked with us. He liked what we did, he just wanted to join in. So we do get to do different things under the ASF banner.
NF: If we hadn’t done Inferno we wouldn’t have learnt certain things that we’ve used since.
MF: It was a major learning curve about computers for a start. As Nik said, within Alien Sex Fiend there is plenty of room for manoeuvring. On one song I get to go spacey or psychedelic and on another it’s industrial or dipping into classical music with touches of violins. We’ve incorporated techno, drum n bass, dancehall, Latin American - you name it! Any kind of rhythms, or there could be no beat at all. The entire world of music is our oyster. Anything goes, so ASF is always different anyway.
30 years of sharing a studio could test the best of friendships, let alone a marriage, and the Fiends are aware that their continued collaboration is highly unusual. They believe that sharing the wheel has helped them stay on track...
MF: It’s always been the same really, whether the original band with four members, or three or now two. Someone has an idea and everyone else adds to it until it’s done.
NF: [Laughing] Alien Sex Fiend is a perfect democracy, I tell Mrs Fiend what I want and she does it.
MF: [Gives Nik the dirtiest look you can imagine]
NF: And she can cook as well...
MF: You can fuck right off mate.
MF: [Laughs] Oh you... Words fail me.
NF: I have no idea how we’ve done it. One thing is we are mates, we’ve been to hell and back on a bus pass. Hopefully we can talk or laugh about how ridiculous some shit is or has been. We are happy with each other. We don’t need to be adored or anything like that. We know our relationship is special and we don’t take it or each other for granted. If ASF ended tomorrow it would be a great shame but we would still have each other. We would still encounter problems whether we were in a band or not. Doing music or not, shit happens and you have to deal with it. Music is quite bourgeois really –"“Oh shit I have to decide on a bass drum sound". It ain’t difficult in comparison with trying to find a water hole in the desert in Africa. I ain’t being smug or clever, that’s a fact.
Merry pranksters of the stage, ASF's theatrics predated the current Burlesque wave, and could be said to have more in common with the original Cabaret performances of Weimar Berlin than the pin up posing of contemporary acts. In the midst of a European tour, Nik audibly relishes his on stage expression.
MF: Playing live is a completely different thing to the studio. In the studio you can go back and correct mistakes, though we usually avoid doing that because it can spoil the vibe of a track. But live there is an audience in front of you and the energy goes between the stage and the audience, and it’s all very much in the moment, so it’s completely different. We improvise on a lot of the songs and take them in different directions live. There is no put on persona – the only difference with me is that I tend not to ponce about in the studio in high heels and a dress…
NF: Nor me.
MF: [Laughs] It’s for practical reasons – it’s a bit awkward to crawl under keyboards to re-plug things in wearing heels. So that’s the only difference really - and after all, the poor audience has got to look at me so I should make a bit of an effort. Though I spend less time getting ready to go on stage than most women do going out on a Saturday night to the pub. As for Nik...
NF: The stage is a more exaggerated version of me. Personally, I couldn't 'put that on' for 28 years. I am as mystified by the weirdness of the whole thing as anyone else. We’ve had gaps where we haven’t played live for a while, so we haven’t worn it out, and we’re still discovering new areas within the old songs that we haven’t explored before so it’s never boring or predictable. It’s different every time. We’re still intrigued with it I guess, that’s why we still do it. If it was just a pose and you did that for 28 years, you would be some kind of massive dick weed.
You’d be very wrong in thinking I was just mincing about up there. I can be quite a nasty cunt - with or without make up.
MF: [Laughs] I can vouch for that.
NF: There you go - she’s my witness.
MF: The one difference with Nik that I see is that he gets what I can only describe as a funny look in his eye when he’s on stage, and I am really not sure whether he is about to smile or go mental. A couple of our road crew have said the same thing. One of them doesn’t like working on the stage during our shows because he’s scared of him.
Six years after their last release Information Overload, the band have produced Death Trip, featuring – as always – Nik Fiend's distinctive artwork. They're not keen to entertain talk of how six years fell into the vortex before the new release.
MF: We did play a number of live shows over that time but other plans kept getting interrupted by various things.
NF: You wouldn’t want a list, mate.
MF: We had deaths in both our families and all sorts of other crap stuff to deal with, and we don’t particularly want to re-live those years.
NF: 'Real life' happened to us, and all I know is that we really wanted to make this new album (Death Trip) and we’ve managed to do it despite some severe interruptions along the way. Everybody has shit to deal with and we got a large portion, but now we’ve got it going on and it’s all good and that’s all we need to know. Life inspires our songs - it causes the angst. Every record that we make is a departure; you can’t go back in time and unlearn. So whatever sounds, pictures and things that you experience all have an effect, they all add to your palette. I think Death Trip is a great record: I’ve thought that about every record we’ve made or I wouldn’t have made them or put them out. I'm not that desperate for attention!
MF: Hard as it may be to believe, that it is true.
NF: It was tough to make Death Trip. Personally, it took all my strength and belief to get it finished, but we’ve never done anything half-hearted ever. I'm really pleased with it, and the reaction to it has far exceeded anything I thought. The reaction has been amazing - all highly positive.
MF: Fans loved the last album Information Overload and tracks like 'Gotta Have It' have become firm favourites, but Death Trip seems to have quickly topped that album. It’s being thought of as a 'classic' Alien Sex Fiend album already, up there with Acid Bath or Curse which is quite a feat. We played 'One Way Ticket' live for the first time a few years ago so I suppose writing that song was maybe the start of writing for this new album, but as we said earlier we had various interruptions so we couldn’t 100% concentrate on writing and recording the rest of it. We just kept coming up with ideas and kept going as and when we could, but I suppose the real impetus on finishing songs and finalising everything didn’t kick in until probably the summer of 2009.
NF: We got told people wouldn’t bother buying vinyl records or CDs any more – HA! Good job I didn’t listen to that! It’s great that its making people happy and giving them such a buzz.
Alien Sex Fiend play a special Halloween show at the Electric Ballroom in London on October 31. Their new album Death Trip is out now.
They also play the following European shows:
September 22 - Knust, Hamburg
September 23 - Forum, Bielefeld
September 24 - K17, Berlin
September 25 - Matrix, Bochum