Various Artists: Why I Love Wire
, March 22nd, 2013 09:05
As Drill:London gets into gear, we asked some Quietus favorites why they love Wire. Our flies in the ointment: Nik Colk Void (pic), Johnny Marr, Gazelle Twin, Dinos Chapman, Comanechi, Matmos, Malka Spigel, Tortoise, Teeth Of The Sea.
Nik Colk Void, Factory Floor
I can't put my finger on when exactly I got into Wire, but I feel like they've always been there. It was through my older brother - he used to dress and try and act like Colin Newman. I first saw them at the Triptych festival, Edinburgh in 2004. It was a fantastic night, so many interesting musicians around, Chris & Cosey, Pan Sonic, Liars - I think it was the first time my brain clicked into recognising the power of merging guitars and electronics at high volume. Wire were tight and fierce, the room was dark, I was sandwiched between heavy men with pints in each hand, but this didn't matter, I could use them as a stabilising crutch when the pogoing began in the encore.
My ex-manager Paul Smith invited Colin Newman to one of my shows [with Kaito], he brought his son along with him, I think it was 2007. Colin came backstage and was really enthusiastic. I was starstruck by him, and I think his son was starstruck by me because I'd just come offstage and he was a young teenager. It was a weird cycle of events, I wonder if he realised I idolised his dad. I watched the Wire On The Box DVD so many times and copied his energy on stage, spent many days looking for grey shirts. I later met more members of Wire when Factory Floor supported them a few years ago. It was great to meet Graham Lewis, he complimented me on my attire - this made my day, he did exactly the same to the guy who interviewed them on the very same 1979 DVD. Coming from an art school background and being grounded I think makes Factory Floor similar to Wire. We both place art and music in the same box and have made it our lifelong commitment to explore.
After meeting Colin that night, we kept in touch over the years. I invited Malka and Colin to come see Factory Floor before I joined in 2009. FF worked differently then, they played nervously everything twice the speed. Colin told me I should join the band, so I did. Malka and I became more acquainted, I became fascinated by her band in Israel, Minimal Compact, and her photography. And she liked some of my solo work. When Colin emailed me to ask if I would like to contribute to her album along with a demo of the track 'Chasing Shadows' this made me very happy indeed. Our voices are similar - they merge into one another, it's a great uplifting track.
My favourite Wire album has to be Chairs Missing, my favorite track being 'Another The Letter'. It has a huge amount of strength, and a fair share of rough with the smooth. Uncomplicated but complicated. I feel like this is when Wire announced they're transgressive, and have proceeded to be again and again with every release.
I first heard Wire when the Live At The Roxy compilation album came out. Me and a couple of friends listened to that record quite a bit. It was something you had to check out and in truth it wasn't a great album but I thought Wire were great, easily the best thing on it. First off Colin's voice was quite arresting. He sounded punky but smart, hardly anyone else did at the time. What lyrics you could make out were interesting. When the first album came out I knew there was some kind of agenda going on and I think that's never changed. Also, seeing pictures of them in the music press was interesting. Most of the other bands still had the rock & roll stance but Wire looked really original, them and Subway Sect, with the plain, stripped-down approach to everything. It went with the music, and the artwork, the whole aesthetic, like all great artists.
I first saw them at Manchester University, I was fifteen and the second album had just come out. I didn't realise what Bruce was doing on guitar until that point. They were pretty full on and energetic. They seemed to be deadly serious but slightly taking the piss at the same time. I thought that was really different, they were quite irreverent, even of themselves.
I really think Wire got better as they went along in those early years. The first two albums are held up so much but I thought 154 was so good when it came out. I related to the approach of the guitars, it was modern and clever, doing away with the old clichés and all that old obvious stuff that was so boring and everyone else was still in thrall to. As a youngster I thought it was important to do something new, so I loved that they did that. The only influence I could detect in Wire's records was perhaps Eno's early material.
I've always found their attitude inspiring: keeping the sound and approach of the times but without getting too caught up in fashion or pleasing everyone, and keeping your own uniqueness. I really like that. Also, "rocking" without "being rock". They're arty for sure but they're not wimpy, there's an appropriate power. The words are great to, Graham is really good and has quite a distinct lyrical style.
Colin and I met at Jon Savage's book launch a few years ago and we kept in touch. Malka and Colin invited me to play on a few songs for Malka's record and I was pleased to be able to do it. It's a good collection of songs with a specific atmosphere that I wanted to respect. I think it sounds really good sonically too. Colin is a good engineer and producer.
154 is my favourite Wire album. I like all the songs and the sounds - the treatment of the guitars that could be keyboards and keyboards that could be guitars is something innovative. Recently, I've been getting into Change Becomes Us. I'm on tour and it's been getting some play backstage. Once again the word "approach" comes up, as in true Wire style they manage to sound like they're thinking carefully and not winging it, but thankfully not at the expense of their own natural talents. That's as good as you can say about anyone I think.
Mat Colegate, Teeth Of The Sea
I've always thought of Wire as a warped British psychedelic band, embodying a similar mixture of Lewis Carroll surrealism (shone through a JG Ballard prism) and primo art school thuggery as bands like John's Children or early Soft Machine. Most of all though, they're Wire, a meeting place for willful obfuscation and chiming white-light clarity. Fucking great pop, in other words. Wire are a bit more on the ball melody-wise than Teeth Of The Sea are, it has to be said. But, yeah, they definitely take their conceptual side pretty seriously, which is something we all really admire. They have a similar approach to ideas as we do, maybe? That it doesn't matter if you're the best player in the world, or the greatest songwriter. You can think your way successfully through musical situations if you use the right blend of literal and lateral thinking. If you look back at their work you can see how important humour is as well. Although maybe it's closer to the 'Umour' of the surrealists? I don't know, because I don't know what 'Umour' means. It's like Harmolodics or something. Baffling and brilliant. Very appropriate.
I think Change Becomes Us is brilliant. I've listened to it three times today already. 'Adore Your Island' is like the perfect song or something, isn't it? Like The Who if they'd been bought up by Wilhelm Reich. I love the weird polish the album has, and the vocal effects. To be honest, I think pretty much every other guitar band in the country should have a listen and a good hard look at themselves, irrespective of their fucking age.
It's difficult to say how the rehearsal for Saturday went, as I was busy psychically high-fiving the fourteen year old me. It was great. We plugged in and we did it. Fast, noisy and ferocious. And fun, don't forget fun. The cherry on the cake was being told that the extremely nice sports car outside the studio belonged to Marti Pellow of Wet Wet Wet (to be honest the 'X1 WET' reg plate should have given it away) which led on to a long involved conversation about the existence or otherwise of Pellow's fabled 'Heroin Moose'. There was a moment when we were playing though, when Colin and Graham both looked up at each other and cracked out in smiles, and that's what will stay with me, I'd imagine. Can't wait to play 'Drill' on Saturday! Prepare for thunder...
I knew more about Bruce Gilbert's solo electronic project than Wire, so they're pretty fresh to my ears. I was unacquainted until Jez Berns aka Bernholz played Chairs Missing about a year ago. I was sucked in right away by the darkness of the opener 'Practice Makes Perfect' - it felt familiar because I'd obviously heard music that had been influenced by this sound before knowing about the origins - like seeing the film before you've read the book... But it also had a strange edge. I'm drawn to the a detachment and a sense of eerie space.
The first three albums each have so many unique moments, one minute you get a really hooky rock song, then you get hit by something really abstract and gnarly. There's space, repetition and aggression but all in different ways. I also like identifying the elements that have influenced or share an affinity with countless other artists, especially from Pink Flag. I mean it's kind of hard to equate how influential that's been. Makes me even more embarrassed not to have known about them until my thirties…
Again, Bernholz suggested I cover 'Heartbeat'. He was helping me source a cover song to fit with my EP, as he has better knowledge of music made before 2000 than I do - back then I was caught in a choral loop. I wanted a song by a male vocalist and something abstract that I could cover naturally or at least without trying too hard, or without shitting on a relic and getting berated for it (although I am quite aware there are people out there who think I've done so with my version). I was drawn in by its coldness and repetition. Most of all, Colin's lyrics hit me, "Is there something here behind me... I am mesmerised by my own beat". You can't avoid feeling a shock run through your body and consciousness after hearing those words.
There's definitely a kinship between my work and Wire with the outsider, eerie spirit of it - existential, rather than the political. Definitely a preoccupation with 'the strange' when set against the mundane or everyday. Colin's shift in personality and vocal style is something I'm fascinated by too. Wire's influence is sure to be more conscious now. It's definitely filtered in to my newer material in the form of more aggressive minimalism.
'Heartbeat' is way up there of course. I find it hard to choose one album but Chairs Missing and 154 are both so brilliantly different (the remaster of 154 is pretty outstanding). I also love 'Strange' from Pink Flag and the miniatures on there like 'Brazil' and 'Different To Me'. I picture them in my mind as perfectly formed sculptures. Little nuggets of spite.
My brother and I really like Wire. We did a stage set for them, when they did that Pink Flag gig at the Barbican. And we wanted to find lots of fitness videos with pink bikinis in them. It was really easy to find videos with pink bikinis, we even found one with a pink flag in it. We’re going to have to sync them so they move at the same time as the music. So we looked at it in an editing suite and there was absolutely no editing needed whatsoever. It all synced perfectly. All these women in pink bikinis exercising, it was totally in time with the music. Job done. I do like serendipity.
Doug McCombs, Tortoise
I heard Pink Flag around '78-'79 and Chairs Missing and 154 shortly afterwards. English bands like Wire, the Mekons and the Gang of Four seemed to me at the time to be made up of non-musician idealists as opposed to ex-rockers pretending to have ideals. I think this appealed to young people in the US who were inspired by punk and starting their own bands. The idea of ideals. Of course all of the important American bands of the era were more about art school and poetry than politics. Maybe personal politics. Wait... I take that back. There were politics, I don't know what I'm talking about.
I didn't see Wire until the late 80s. I was disappointed that they didn't play any material from their early records. It seemed like an unusual choice to make. They had a Wire cover band as support. The cover band played Pink Flag from start to finish, which was interesting as a conceptual joke, but ultimately lame. The most inspiring aspect to Wire is the willingness to move into different areas and try different things, experiment. Tortoise definitely tries to do that.
We collaborated with Colin for BBC Radio 2 because we figured that working with him would be very immediate and potentially rewarding. Given the circumstances, quick, concise decision-making was essential. We could have chosen someone more from the improvising world which would have been easy, but we wanted the challenge of actually writing some songs in that short timeframe. The results were interesting, more sketches than completed songs, but I think they stand on their own as a window into the collaboration.
Drew Daniel, Matmos
I got into Wire from John Cook, a friend of mine in Louisville Kentucky who I was in bands with. He loved, loved this tape The Bullet that he had made, which was a collection of 154-era outtakes and rarities, and we listened to it over and over. Basically it worked like this: if you were into hardcore in America then you worshipped Minor Threat, and because Minor Threat did '12XU' everybody knew Pink Flag, then the really with it kids - this is in high school - knew 154, 'Map Reference' and the weirder direction Wire went in. It was this challenge because they had such instant punk credibility because of Pink Flag, but they also were like a springboard to all these other ways of making music.
Then in San Francisco we had this weird chance to open for them, which was crazy, I couldn't fucking believe that Matmos was going to open for Wire. Who would ever put those two together? I was really honoured, and on the other hand I wanted to flag something that had happened to one of Wire's greatest riffs, so we did this weird thing that was a cover of 'Three Girl Rhumba' and a cover of 'Connection', like a medley, a glitch version of both riffs. Kind of a-b-ing it back and forth to show the similarity, but also a meta-fest, as we were stealing from both of them. When we finished our set, we went up to the Wire guys and I was smirking, I'll admit, and I said 'what did you think to our little homage?' Without losing a beat Graham [Lewis] quoted the American film director Sam Fuller, who said 'homage is just French for rip-off'. I thought that was such a great move, because it threw back in our faces: 'oh you think you're doing a homage but you're just another person ripping us off', but it was also a statement to us that was a quotation at the same time. I thought it was very typical Wire judo, extremely immediate and no bullshit, but also quite complex the more you look at it. I think they've got that wry, direct witty humour but that's not the end of it. I wish I could find that file, but it's about five computers ago. Who knows if we could even legally use it?
Malka Spigel - Minimal Compact, Githead
I first heard Wire in the late 70s in Tel Aviv. At the time we couldn't get any interesting music because it was either local or mainstream. Samy Birnbach, who ended up being the singer of Minimal Compact, was a mad record collector, so he got all the good stuff. I ended up ordering about four albums I'd seen in his collection, and Chairs Missing was one of them. I loved that it was catchy but it sounded really obscure, the Britishness of it. When you're an Israeli and speak a bit of English... we literally translated “fly in the ointment” and it sounded so obscure and strange, we didn't know it's an expression. It was a really underground thing in Tel Aviv, probably only ten of us into Wire.
I met Colin before seeing Wire play live. Minimal Compact were looking for a producer, and were not sure who to ask. We found this book with names of producers in it, had a look through it and saw Colin Newman and thought, 'oh we're fans of Wire and we like the Virgin Prunes album he produced', so we invited him. Colin was kind of performing the first day he came to produce, he was performing the British type. He was wearing a suit, he even had a briefcase, he looked very businesslike, but he was quite silly and had this very British sense of humour. As I got to know him I realised he wasn't very punk, what I thought would be a very punk attitude of 'fuck you' and all that. He actually wanted to meet my parents.
I gradually got to know Wire, but it took a while to get to know them as people - you know what bands and girlfriends are like. In the 80s some of the gigs were awesome and some of them were awful. It's hard to point out one memory over the years, as they've been such a part of my life. Colin will get annoyed if I went back to the 70s, he gets fed up with people saying 'I love the 70s' but I think the new album is great, it bridges the period from the 70s to now-Wire. So I'd say the new album.
Sam Barton, Teeth Of The Sea
I love Wire for their creative fearlessness - one can never make a sound too weird, too nasty or, conversely, too pretty. A delight in exploring sound for its own sake and a recognition that texture and timbre are as important in musical composition as melody/harmony/rhythm. An understanding that the idea of 'song' can go beyond first person confessional/forced metaphor/protest or any other tropes that usually signify the literary within the 'rock canon'. A willingness to credit their audience with sufficient intelligence to follow them on whatever twists and turns they choose to take them on. An almost infuriating ability to do all this and still turn out pop music so damn infectious that most 'mainstream' acts would kill to be able to write it.
I actually got into them via Lush's cover of 'Outdoor Miner', which was the B-side of the 'For Love' single (1992 I think). About two months later I found the 7" of the Wire original (on white vinyl) on a school trip to Stratford Upon Avon. The B-side was 'Practice Makes Perfect' which was like nothing I'd ever heard at that point. Just the space, texture of those tracks and weird opaque nature of the lyrics. The simmering whole-tone menace of 'Practice Makes Perfect', the outrageous tunefulness of 'Outdoor Miner', the way these things sat together within the same band. Weirdly I actually ended up years later giving that record away to John (ex ToTS member) once I had all the tunes on CD, as I occasionally go through these drunken 'potlatch' moments of giving favourite discs to friends. I think Wire represent a lot of the ideals I strive for in making music. The fact that they're always working, even if it's not on the conventional band treadmill of records, tours etc - for example they'll do sound installations, collaborations with visual artists and deconstructions of their own work. They also blur the notions of high and low art which is a philosophy that ToTS have always pitched our tent around. For example, I've always had this ideal in music of the 'bohemian football hooligan anthem', it's something Jimmy [ToTS member] and I have discussed at length over the years. Basically the most perfect examples of the form are 'Needle In The Camel's Eye' by Eno and 'I Am The Fly' by Wire. That's not meant to sound flippant - if you can write an insane polyrhythmic song that lyrically makes Metamorphosis look a bit on the safe side and still make it a Saturday night air-puncher then you've truly achieved greatness. The pop thing is really important, it's not ivory tower experimentalism, it's to be put out into the world.
The rehearsal for Saturday was amazing. Any experience that begins with Colin Newman making you a cup of tea is going to be amazing, right? We geeked out over the effects pedals for a bit, then got down to putting together a colossal slab of noise. I was obviously a bit nervous about how it would go down but they seemed to really like what we did.
Simon Petrovich, Comanechi
As a kid I had Big Black's Rich Man's Eight Track, on which they cover 'Heartbeat'. Then when Wire sued Elastica I bought Pink Flag out of curiosity. I loved the bleak, simple, sparse, perfect pop songs! I like uncomplicated albums that aren't swathed in production. Ones that make you realize it's within your reach to make a great record without help from a label.
Pink Flag was an enabler for me. It literally pushed me into writing my first actual songs that I intended other people to listen to. With Wire I don't separate words and music. Unlike a lot of punk and post punk bands they have catchy vocal melodies, and I like the way they don't really do guitar solos. The first three albums are great, but there's so much more: tracks like 'In the Art of Stopping' and 'Marx's Table' have an industrial slant which show a harder, more abrasive Wire. I like the way these songs are totally unadorned. I saw Wire at the Royal Festival Hall in 2000. It was seated and felt too reserved for me. I've seen them since at Offset and ATP and they've been incredible. Songs like 'Map Ref 41' are spine tinglingly amazing live. I'd have to say Pink Flag, as it re-awoke in me the urge to be in a band which I hadn't felt since I first started buying records as a kid. I'm playing in the Pinkflag Guitar Orchestra on Sunday night. I'll be shredding.
Wire play Drill:London this weekend. For tickets, go here