'A Long Piece About Nothing': Wanda Group Interviewed
, June 26th, 2013 04:37
As Wanda Group, Louis Johnstone creates beautiful, decayed landscapes of tape crackle, hiss and distortion. Ahead of a live show in London this Friday, he tells Matthew Kent about "having no clue what I'm doing" and dedicating albums to his now-junked old red car
Louis Johnstone's Wanda Group project has been making a growing name for itself across the course of this year. With a quick-fire succession of cryptically titled records, accompanied with greyscale collage artwork built from images of fragmented rock, he's established a particular aesthetic that's both unique and tough to pin down.
Certain elements coincide with the styles and ideals of musique concrete, or artists like Joseph Hammer, Atrax Morgue and the school of industrial/experimental/minimal cassettes that cropped up in the late 80s and early 90s. But throwing names to see what sticks seems a little at odds with the nourishing aspect at the heart of Wanda Group, a certain verisimilitude that sidesteps overt abstraction towards something more beautiful.
His tracks are complex, intimate structures: webs of samples stripped of their original setting, closely examined, then messily smeared and reapplied into radically new shapes. The overall approach and final appearance is closer to papier-mache than any traditional style of production. Jar Moff seems a kindred spirit of sorts - and indeed they share a connection through Matthewdavid's LA-based Leaving Records, with Johnstone having previously released a more hip-hop orientated spate of work on the label as Dem Hunger. Both have worked visually, primarily through collage, and both share musical techniques that extend those approaches into a musical medium.
Wanda Group's work so far has both cropped up on an enviable list of labels – NNA Tapes, Further Records, Opal Tapes, Woetone, Vlek – and been fired out onto his own 'UMBRO G' bandcamp, always up for grabs for a couple of quid at most. Perhaps his highest profile release, PISS FELL OUT LIKE SUNLIGHT first emerged on cassette late last year via Opal Tapes (it has since been pressed onto vinyl) and proved an enticing step forwards for the artist. Over two sides, a delightful network of small forms were laid out in a sequence not dissimilar from that of a mixtape. The softest, most porous of his work to date, it sounded chiseled from rock as crumbled and aerated as that found on the artwork.
Also worth noting is his obtuse and fascinating use of Twitter as a space for stream-of-consciousness wittering, going above and beyond that which you'd expect of the medium. It's a weird and disorientating mix of humour, observation, the everyday and an almost poetic formation of words. Sly track and record titles give you a hint of it, but the effect is scaled up here - an artist crossing boundaries between 'weird' Twitter and art. Particularly fascinating is a series of spontaneous meanderings from not long ago, discussing a hypothetical Resident Advisor review of so-called 'Outsider House' in relation to his weekly ASDA shop. All darkly knowing, wonderfully eloquent and faintly ridiculous.
It seems the Dublin-based Opal Tapes label has settled in for a long-term relationship with Wanda Group. Sitting amongst a varied roster of musicians that look to break apart the atomic framework of electronic music - especially dance music - through explorations of noise and collage, it's a great spot for him. This Friday Johnstone will be debuting a hitherto unseen Wanda Group performance at a showcase for Opal Tapes and Public Information at London's Waiting Room, courtesy of BleeD. It's a potentially radical new space for the project that offers its own particular challenges.
In advance of the performance, the Quietus spoke to him via email, and received wittily self-deprecating, circular responses in typical, eye-boggling upper case.
Could you provide a bit of an introduction to those who might not know too much about you?
Louis Johnstone: AN INTRODUCTION I GUESS WOULD BE A YOUNG MAN, BUT MAYBE NOT A YOUNG MAN. ABOUT 28 YEARS OLD, WHO WAS BORN AROUND RAINHAM WHICH IS NEAR DAGENHAM/ROMFORD PART OF LONDON/ESSEX. THE MAYBE YOUNG MAN MOVED TO BRIGHTON TO BE NEAR THE SEA ABOUT 3 YEARS AGO. HE WORKS FULL TIME IN A CARE HOME FOR PEOPLE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES AND HAS DONE FOR 10 YEARS. MUSIC GETS DONE WHEN NOT AT WORK, AND HE HAS TRIED TO DO SO SINCE HE WAS ABOUT 12. ALL OF IT IS USUALLY VERY BAD, BUT SOME NICE THINGS COME OUT OF IT, SOMETIMES. HE AIN'T THAT INTERESTING. JUST A MAYBE YOUNG MAN NEAR THE WATER.
How'd you first get into producing?
LJ: WAS MAYBE AROUND 17 WHEN I STARTED RECORDING MY OLD BAND 'GIRLS TEETH'. I LIKED THE FACT THAT I COULD CHANGE SECTIONS OF THE MUSIC WITHOUT THE OTHER BAND MEMBERS KNOWING. I COULD SPLIT IN HALF A BASS DRUM OR I COULD TURN OFF A GUITAR WHEN THE GUITAR SHOULD HAVE BEEN ON, ETC. IT ALL WENT FROM THERE. JUST DOING WHATEVER YOU WANT WITH SECTIONS OF SOUND.
How do you generally work to create your sound?
LJ: IT HAPPENS IN VARIOUS WAYS. I TRY TO LET MYSELF HAVE A COMPLETE IDEA ON EACH RELEASE, IN THE SENSE THAT I KNOW HOW LONG I WANT IT TO BE AND A LITTLE THEME OF WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT. OBVIOUSLY THIS IS JUST A PILE OF SHIT, BECAUSE IT TURNS INTO SOMETHING DIFFERENT IN THE END. I GUESS I JUST NEED A BASIC THING TO LET MYSELF GET IT ALL GOING.
BASICALLY MY NEXT RECORD IS ABOUT MY TWO DEAD ALSATIAN DOGS LIVING IN A NEW WORLD. I TOOK THAT IDEA AND EXPLORED IT. IT'S ALL VERY 'UP YOUR OWN ARSE' TYPE STUFF. I USE WHATEVER I CAN. RECENTLY A BROKEN FOSTEX RECORDER THAT I HAVE HAD FOR ABOUT 12 YEARS. I RECENTLY FELL BACK IN LOVE WITH THE SOUND OF WIRES RUBBING AGAINST EACH OTHER. MORE 'UP YOUR OWN ARSE' STUFF. I LIKE TO TRY AND GIVE ANYTHING A GO, THOUGH. SOFT EUROPEAN JAZZ BURIED UNDER SOME NAUTICAL PALACE.
What were some of the original ideas behind your other records then? For instance, the half of the split you did with Ekoplekz?
LJ: THE SPLIT WITH EKO WAS ORIGINALLY ANOTHER LOVE SONG TO MY OLD RED CAR. I GOT RID OF IT ABOUT 3 YEARS AGO, JUST BEFORE I MOVED. SHE WENT TO A DUMP, AND I WENT TO BRIGHTON. I GUESS I WANTED THAT WHOLE SIDE TO BE ABOUT HER AND HOW SHE TREATED ME WELL AND HOW MUCH RESPECT WE HAD FOR EACH OTHER. IT KIND OF JUST WENT ON FROM THERE, AND THEN JUST TURNED INTO A LONG PIECE ABOUT NOTHING.
And with PISS FELL OUT LIKE SUNLIGHT?
LJ: PISS FELL OUT WAS THE WORST ONE FOR ME. IT IS MY FAVOURITE THING I HAVE MADE, BUT IT WAS A HORRIBLE TIME. I HAD THESE WEIRD FUCKING PANIC ATTACKS FOR A FEW WEEKS FOR NO REASON. TOO MUCH WORK, MAYBE? NOT ENOUGH SLEEP? DRINKING TOO MUCH, ETC. I WAS COVERED IN THIS RECORD AND IT FUCKIN JUST SUFFOCATED ME. I AM A FUCKIN STUPID MAN, SOMETIMES. I DON'T REALLY KNOW HOW TO ENJOY MYSELF OR MY FRIENDS. I NEVER REALLY EMBRACE WHAT GOES ON AROUND ME.
THE RECORD JUST CAME OUT OF ALL THAT. IT TURNED INTO A HOWLING BURIED BEAST. IT SOUNDS SHIT TO MOST PEOPLE, BUT I AM QUITE PROUD OF IT. PISS FELL OUT IS, IN THE END, JUST ABOUT ME COMING OUT FROM THE GROUND AND TRYING TO ENJOY MY STUPID LITTLE LIFE, MAYBE.
It's often based around quite personal subjects then? Your means for creation seems to be as an almost cathartic kind of thing.
LJ: I HOPE SO, MAN. I LIKE TO THINK MOST PEOPLE THAT MAKE STUFF ARE DOING IT BECAUSE IT HELPS THEM MOVE FORWARD OR GIVE THEM MORE OF A CLUE TO WHY THEY EXIST OR HAVE TO EXIST. OBVIOUSLY I DO IT BECAUSE IT GIVES ME ENDLESS EXCITEMENT STILL, BUT ALSO I HOPE IT MEANS MY OWN LIFE IS A BIT FULLER. I DON'T REALLY DO MUCH ELSE APART FROM WORK AND MAKE THESE LITTLE RECORDS. I THINK IF I HAD A WIFE THEN MAYBE I COULD RELAX MORE AND SEE MORE COUNTRIES AND ENJOY HER COMPANY. THAT'S THE NEXT STEP, THOUGH. I NEED TO FIND A WOMAN AND BE FREE.
You previously worked as Dem Hunger, more hip-hop/LA beat aligned sort of stuff. Can you elaborate on that period a little more?
LJ: DEM HUNGER STARTED AROUND 2008, WHEN AN EX GIRLFRIEND BOUGHT ME SOMETHING AND IT CHANGED HOW I MADE MY MUSIC. DEM HUNGER HAD MORE COLOUR AND MAYBE MORE MOVEMENT, BUT IN THE END I ENDED UP HATING IT ALL. I HAD TO GET RID OF IT. I WAS SICK INSIDE ABOUT THE WHOLE THING. I DIDNT FEEL LIKE I WAS DOING WHAT I WANTED TO DO. I LOVED CAVEMAN SMACK BUT EVERYTHING AFTER WAS JUST NOT RIGHT. I NEEDED A NEW EXPERIENCE. WANDA GROUP CAME RIGHT OUT FROM THAT.
Dem Hunger's dead then? Or at least in stasis? Could the same happen to Wanda Group at some point?
LJ: DEM HUNGER IS GONE FOREVER. NO NEED FOR IT, I THINK. WANDA GROUP MAY ALL DIE BUT WHO KNOWS. FOR NOW THEY ARE ALL VERY VERY RELAXED AND IN CONTROL.
You've got a couple of other aliases under which you've released stuff too; do they have particular sounds or themes devoted to them or anything? I'm interested to know what makes something a Wanda Group record, or GG Alien/The Hers and so on, and then also what leads you to create a new name for something.
LJ: NOTHING REALLY THAT SPECIAL ABOUT THE OTHER PROJECTS I DO. THE HERS STARTED WHEN I FOUND A BROKEN 7" RECORD ON THE FLOOR IN LONDON. THIS WAS ABOUT 7 YEARS AGO. I TOOK THE RECORD HOME AND LOOPED IT AND CUT BITS INTO IT AND THREW MUD ON IT AND ALL THAT SHIT YOU DO TO TRY AND EXPLORE OTHER LITTLE THINGS THAT NEVER WORK. THE HERS JUST CAME OUT OF THAT. I GUESS WITH THE HERS I STARTED OUT ONLY USING OLD CLASSICAL RECORDS THAT I COULD FIND FROM CHARITY SHOPS. IT'S MOVED MORE INTO A LONG, DRAWN OUT, BLISTERING DRONE THING. WHO KNOWS, THOUGH. ALL THE OTHER PROJECTS ARE PROBABLY DEAD. WANDA GROUP AND THE HERS ARE MY ONLY REAL LOVE. GSD IS BASIC LOOPED POP MUSIC, MAYBE, AND GG ALIEN IS JUST A FUCKING MESS.
You also do a bit of visual stuff too, right?
LJ: I DO VISUAL STUFF BUT NOT AS MUCH AS I USED TO. I GOT HEAVILY INTO RIPPING AND CUTTING UP CONCRETE, ROCKS, MOUNTAINS AND JUST MERGING THEM ALL AS ONE HUGE THING. THEN I JUST STOPPED AND NOW I JUST LOST THE URGE. I MAKE LITTLE VIDEOS BUT ONLY ON WINDOWS MOVIE MAKER 2.6. I WOULD LIKE TO EVENTUALLY GET A CHEAP LITTLE CAMERA AND MAKE A DRAWN OUT FILM ABOUT ME IN THE OCEAN. LOADS OF SHOTS OF ME NUDE AND ENJOYING LIFE. MOODY MUSIC OVER THE TOP.
Maybe it's just the habit I have of sticking the cover of the tape/record that's playing in front of my turntable that leads me to think this, but I always think there's an overwhelming similarity in the collaged visuals and sounds, to the point at which there's little distinction between them. It's all just torn and re-purposed strips of material being reformulated.
LJ: THE THING ABOUT ALL OF IT ALL BEING JUST RECONNECTED STRAPPED TOGETHER PARTS FROM OTHER THINGS IS GREAT. I AGREE. I THINK ALL THE THINGS I DO ARE JUST A CONTINUATION OF STUFF THAT WILL GO ON FOREVER. NOT MY STUFF. MY STUFF WILL DIE IN ABOUT A YEAR. I DUNNO. WHO KNOWS. I LIKE THE IDEA OF EVERYTHING JUST NOW BEING MADE FROM OTHER THINGS, AND THAT COULD GO ON AND ON AND ON AND ON UNTIL THE SUN DOES ITS THING.
How'd you get involved with Opal Tapes? And I guess with other labels too - Matthewdavid's Leaving Records for the Dem Hunger LP, NNA Tapes in Vermont. It's quite a diverse bunch, geographically.
LJ: NOT REALLY SURE ABOUT HOW THE LABELS GOT IN CONTACT. I HAVE NEVER SENT ANYTHING TO A LABEL IN MY LIFE. NEVER BEEN REALLY FOND OF BOTHERING PEOPLE TOO MUCH. I JUST MADE A FEW PIECES AND PUT IT ONLINE FOR FREE. THEN I GUESS SOMEHOW PEOPLE HEARD ABOUT IT AND WANTED TO DO SOME STUFF. LEAVING RECORDS CONTACTED ME AND ASKED ME TO A LITTLE PIECE, WHICH TURNED INTO PEUGEOT PREGNANCY WHICH WAS ANOTHER LOVE SONG TO MY RED CAR. THEN I JUST MADE HIM THE CAVEMAN SMACK TAPE. THE NNA WAS THE SAME. THEM LOVELY BOYS JUST EMAILED ME AND ASKED ME TO DO A TAPE. BASS URINE THEN CAME OUT OF THAT, AND IT ALL JUST WENT FROM THERE. OPAL THE SAME.
Do you listen to any of the other stuff on those labels? I'm also interested what particularly influences your work as Wanda Group - be it musical or otherwise.
LJ: GONNA SOUND LIKE AN ARSEHOLE, BUT I DONT REALLY HAVE MUCH TIME TO GO LISTENING ABOUT TO TOO MUCH OTHER STUFF. I OBVIOUSLY LISTEN TO A FEW THINGS AND TRY TO KEEP UP TO DATE WITH WHAT THE WORLD IS DOING, ETC. I TRY TO DEDICATE MY TIME WITH MY OWN STUFF AND THEN GET HEAVILY INVOLVED IN THAT. I LISTEN TO SUN CITY GIRLS CONSTANTLY, FLY PAN AM, WEIRD LITTLE SONGS FROM OTHER COUNTRIES, ETC. I LIKE TO LISTEN TO MUSIC THAT PEOPLE I KNOW HAVE MADE. I USUALLY JUST LISTEN TO TURKISH SONGS FROM THE '80S. INFLUENCES ARE ALL OVER. LITTLE BOOKS THAT I FIND OR CERTAIN FILMS AND CERTAIN STORIES THAT HAPPEN IN MY DAY AT WORK, OR JUST ME LIVING ON EARTH. I GUESS IT ALL MELTS TOGETHER TO DO SOMETHING WITH THE MUSIC I MAKE. RECENTLY I FELL OFF A ROOF, AND THAT SURE DID SOMETHING TO ME.
'Commencement On Slavery With A Gender Perspective', taken from the Birth Body split EP with Ssaliva on Svetlana Industries
When did the all-capitals thing first start? Your Twitter presence is almost like another realm of artistic output - scrambles of words that feel close to your track titles, links to music, little fragments of your day-to-day mundanes... all interspersed and tangled together. When I've mentioned Wanda Group to someone there's a good chance the Twitter will come up pretty fast, which is interesting.
LJ: CAPITALS THING WAS JUST SOMETHING I DID WHEN I MADE THIS LITTLE SHELLEY DUVALL BLOG WHILE I WAS DOING MY DEM HUNGER STUFF. IT NEVER MEANT ANYTHING AND I JUST LIKED HOW THE LETTERS LOOKED WHEN THEY WAS BLOWN UP AND LARGE. IT HAS NO PLACE FOR ME THAT TO TALK IN CAPITALS IS TO TALK LOUD. I JUST LIKED HOW IT LOOKED. THE TWITTER THING IS JUST A NICE WAY TO THROW OUT LITTLE IDEAS AND SENTENCES. I SHOULD FUCKIN GIVE IT UP AND WRITE IT ALL DOWN IN LITTLE BOOKS AND KEEP IT TO MYSELF. I GUESS IT'S JUST ME BEING A SHOW OFF CUNT. I AM HAPPY IF PEOPLE ENJOY MY LITTLE SENTENCES, THOUGH. IT'S SOMETHING ELSE APART FROM HAVING TO LISTEN TO MY MOODY SOAKED MUSIC.
You're playing at this BleeD night Opal and Public Information have put together, right? Have you done live stuff before? What's your setup for it?
LJ: THE NEW LIVE THING HAS ME SHITTED UP. I HAVENT PLAYED LIVE FOR ABOUT 5 YEARS. I USED TO PLAY LIVE A LOT, WITH BANDS OR ON MY OWN. JUST TURNING UP WITH A SNARE DRUM OR A GUITAR AND SOME LITTLE INSTRUMENTS. I USED TO MAKE IT UP ON THE SPOT AND GO WITH IT. THEN I GOT OLDER AND I GOT SCARED. MY GUTS WENT. THIS YEAR IS THE YEAR I FUCKIN TOLD MYSELF TO MAN UP. THIS IS WHY I AM PLAYING LIVE. I REALLY HAVE NO CLUE WHAT I AM DOING IN ANYTHING THAT I DO. I TRY TO JUST GET ON WITH IT AND WHATEVER HAPPENS IS WHAT WILL HAPPEN. THE SET UP AT THE MOMENT IS A BROKEN FOUR TRACK WITH SOME LEADS GOING IN AND OUT, SOME CONTACT MICROPHONES AND MY BASHED UP LAPTOP. IT OVERHEATS ALL THE TIME AND I GUESS THAT I CAN EVENTUALLY GET RID OF THE LAPTOP AND JUST CONCENTRATE ON THE LEADS GOING IN AND OUT OF THE FOUR TRACK.
I THINK PEOPLE ARE GONNA PROBABLY THINK ALL OF IT IS COMPLETE SHIT. IT'S WORTH A GO, THOUGH. MY FRIENDS ARE COMING TO SEE MY FIRST LIVE SHIT AND MOST OF THEM HAVE NEVER EVEN LISTENED TO MY MUSIC. THAT WORRIES ME MORE, BECAUSE I THINK THEY ARE GONNA BE LIKE 'LOU, YOU CUNT. WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS MESS. IT SOUNDS LIKE A FUCKIN CARPET BEING THROWN OUT A WINDOW, MATE'. NEVER MIND.
So you're potentially gonna do a bit more live stuff after if this goes well?
LJ: YES, SIR. I HAVE MY FIRST SHOW AS WANDA GROUP ON MY MUM'S BIRTHDAY IN TWO WEEKS. THAT IS A LITTLE BRIGHTON SHOW IN A LITTLE NICE PUB. THEN I WILL DO THE BIG BOY LONDON ONE, AND THEN TAKE MY YEAR FROM THERE. I ALSO WANTED TO USE IT AS A WAY TO MAYBE TRAVEL MORE AND ENJOY LIFE. MEET SOME PEOPLE AND MAYBE EVENTUALLY KISS AND DANCE WITH MORE WOMEN. MY TWENTIES HAVE NOT BEEN WHAT I WANTED THEM TO BE. MY THIRTIES WILL HOPEFULLY HAVE A BIT MORE MOVEMENT.
You mentioned another record on its way too?
LJ: OUTER ALSATIAN IS THE NAME OF THE RECORD. IT'S HOPEFULLY GONNA BE ON NOTOWN RECORDS. I AM NOT REALLY SURE WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE. IT HAS A LOT OF CHANGES AND IT DOESNT REALLY DO THAT MUCH, BUT IT MEANS QUITE A BIT TO ME. I THOUGHT ABOUT THESE TWO WONDERFUL DOGS AS I CREATED IT. IT WOULD BE NICE TO SOMEHOW RUB THEIR ASHES INSIDE EACH PRESSING OF THE RECORD. I ALSO HAVE ANOTHER RECORD COMING OUT ON A NICE NEW BRIGHTON LABEL. THE RECORD IS CALLED MASCULINITY IS A WONDERFUL THING. THAT ONE IS ABOUT MY DAD AND HIS FATHER.
Wanda Group's PISS FELL OUT LIKE SUNLIGHT is out now via Opal Tapes. He plays live at BleeD Music's Opal Tapes vs. Public Information night at London's Waiting Room, this Friday 28th June. For more information and tickets, click here.