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Blow The Tanks: Chrome Hoof Interviewed & Crush Depth Reviewed PLUS Free Mix
John Doran , May 24th, 2010 10:41

John Doran explains why Crush Depth ranks so highly on his albums of 2010, while Ben Hewitt ask Chrome Hoof about sacrificing goats and trapping Garry Bushell inside a giant plastic bubble. Plus, Milo from the band provides a rather excellent free mix for everyone to enjoy

Chrome Hoof DJ Mix by theQuietus (A Milo Mix - scroll down for the tracklisting)

Even the contemporary thinker John Gray, in his terrifying critique of humanism Straw Dogs, begrudgingly admits that there are a couple of subtle differences between humans and most animals. His point is (and I’m trying to remember his position off the top of my head so bear with me) that basically we are identical to animals in all important ways and only differ in our love for furniture, our capacity for fashioning weapons, our ability to enjoy The Fall and the use of written language to record and order our thoughts. But I would add to this an overwhelming urge for exploration along all plains of existence. North, South, West, East. Up, Down. Micro, Macro. Outer Space, Inner Space.

As rapacious, territorial ape-men who have a terrifying thirst and capacity for violence and murder we’ve found it necessary to explore every nook and cranny of the earth that we stand on and go even further beyond just for a respite from the endless blood-letting. Whereas psychedelic disco doom prog-rockers Chrome Hoof’s previous two albums have been influenced by the concept of space exploration, this time they are more interested in abyssal oceanic depths. It is an attempt to crush their multiple influences together, to compact them into a seamless new whole. These intense notional pounds per square inch, represent the final abandonment of any sense of pastiche or whackiness (not that there was much to begin with) in favour of a destination sound which is an indivisible new whole.

So with their self-titled debut in 2004, the good spaceship Chrome Hoof resembled the first exploratory rocket flight to puncture the top layer of the earth’s atmosphere, sending back a few seconds worth of footage, showing pictures of our home planet from the edge of space. The first time human beings ever saw the curvature of the earth. In 2007 their second album was Pre-Emptive False Rapture (containing one of the year’s best songs ‘Tonyte’, a 140bpm track which appeared to contain the puzzling line: “Moon rock! Let’s put Gary Bushell in a bubble.”) Comparatively this was like a manned mission to the Belt Of Orion transmitting HD visions of deep field supernovae straight into humanity’s collective third eye. With their mightiest album to date Crush Depth, they have pointed their craft in the opposite direction: to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. (Inner) space is now the place.

Milo Smee, the submersible’s rhythm Methodist and pro-hip hop drummer has once more teamed up with his brother Leo, bass Captain and Cathedral mainstay. Along with the rest of their crew they have voyaged to the bottom of the sea, past iridescent angler fish, super-massive squid, titanic ship wrecks and skeletons crushed so hard they’ve turned to diamond.

The title refers to the point at which submersibles are prone to catastrophic implosion under immense cubic tonnage of water, as if a skip full of anvils were suddenly dropped on a free range egg. They claim an unlikely pair as inspirational heroes for the album, Jacques Picard and Don Walsh, rather than Robert Fripp and Steve Hillage. Again, it’s a matter of depth. Most Navy submarines only have an operational depth of around 400 meters, because of the huge pressure of water at those depths. But this pair – who the band eulogize as “nutter pioneers” - descended 7 miles in 1960, taking five hours to get to the sea floor, cracking the windscreen of their sub in the process. It may seem risible to compare a prog band to the pioneers of the deep, for none of Chrome Hoof were in that much physical danger while recording this record. For your actual sub-mariners, travelling to great depths has always brought with it the risk of great danger and it is true that the first deep sea divers occasionally suffered an awful fate. The air compressors that kept the suit inflated at depth were notoriously unreliable and when they failed the contents of the suit would be squeezed instantaneously through the helmet and up through the pipe. When winched up, all that would remain in the suit would be a skeleton and some bloody rags of flesh. They called this the pinch.

But the band realized that the idea of unimaginable pressure and stress at depth is a useful metaphor for how they combine different strands of music into one well-formed acid disco metal prog whole: without exploratory bravery, Chrome Hoof’s astounding oeuvre could just be another daytrip into joyless and technical proficiency for the sake of it. They construct something that is immensely sexual, funky, gripping, dramatic, frightening (if you’ve had the right sort of drugs anyway), imagination-fuelling, dance inspiring, spiritual and hilarious, however.

Those who have already witnessed the might of Chrome Hoof will already be under the hypnotic spell of singer Lola Olafisoye. Her voice is so powerful on the track ‘One Day’ it can crack sub windows at any depth. Emmett Elvin gets to stretch himself and his keyboard playing skills on ‘Crystalline’ which features a glorious trill of analogue synths, church organs and pianos; a process in which he was aided and abetted by Simian Mobile Disco man, James Ford.

But of course what is a submersible craft made out of if not a very heavy metal? Cathedral man Leo Smee and Kavus Torabi get to head bang the fuck out on ‘Third Rock Descendents’, a track heavier than 100 tons of blue whale blubber. A healthy portion of sax and violins is provided on ‘Vapourise’ and ‘Core Delusion’ by Chloe Herington and Sadie Anderson, and serves to keep the listener on edge with jangling nerves all the way through this oceanic experience. But really driving home the new, menacing downward direction is Emma Sullivan who, when not expertly handling the mini-Korg, is issuing black metal standard, blood-curdling screams. This trio of mirror-ball material cowled acolytes add their elegant touches all over this album from the haunted soundscapes of ‘Labyrinth’ to the hurtling disco prog punk of ‘Bunker’s Paradise’.

Such is the lure of Chrome Hoof’s immaculate mix of demented obsidian black doom metal, Italian horror soundtrack spook vibes, tweaking acid house, cosmic beard disco, future cosmiche and urban psych that plenty of other people risked their lives to accompany them on this foolhardy but glorious mission. Daniel O’Sullivan (Mothlite, SunnO))), Ulver, The Big Pink) adds his creaking and doom ridden guitar and synth tones to ‘Sea Hornet’. Legendary French maverick J.P. Massiera rises from the depths on ‘Towards Zero’ to narrate like a ketamine addled Serge Gainsbourg, waking mythical sea beasts from their slumber with his incantations, aiding an ambient melt down of epic proportions. Their longest track ‘Witch’s Instruments and Furnaces’ features a ghostly clutch of voices directed by Philip Collin of Nottingham’s Bach Choir. Long term buddy Will Summers of Circulus plays the crumhorn on Anorexic Cyclops. And as if that wasn’t enough, the god-like presence of Cluster (aka Dieter Moebius and Hans Joachim Roedelius) makes itself felt on the fast and intense disco work out of ‘Deadly Pressure’.

For me, this is a worthy companion piece to Cathedral’s monumental ‘Guessing Game’ and raises just one question. When we’ve got a band on our doorstep who are comparable in many respects to Sun Ra, Parliament, The Undisputable Truth, Funkadelic and T Rex… what the hell are we waiting for? Secure the hatches, down periscope and blow the tanks. Dive! Dive! Dive!

The Quietus also tracked down Chrome Hoof's Milo and Leo to put the following questions to them...

Crush Depth took roughly a year to make; its predecessor, Pre-Emptive False Rapture, was reportedly made in three weeks. What did you do with all that extra time, and why was it such a lengthier process?

Chrome Hoof: Pre-Emptive... was going in to record a set we already knew from playing it live - with just an extra two or three songs we wrote for the album. With Crush Depth, we started from scratch. There were periods where we just didn't have the cash to move things on to the next stage.

But that time allowed us to experiment with the material, rope in people who could contribute something interesting, record loads of overdubs in basements, garages, churches, toilets etc with all sorts of unusual instruments; scrap things, work into things, and basically realised this would be a good time to go all out, getting as many sonics into the album as we could - but still be coherent and focused of course (to our minds).

We borrowed every nice synth we could get our hands on, and the fractured process of recording parts meant that we have 'air' from maybe 50 locations on the album. It's a heavy, rich fruitcake, which I'm sure some people will find hard to digest...the wimps.

Do you feel like your first two albums were progressing to the sound you've now arrived at?

CH: Affirmative, that makes sense. Cessation.

Is the metaphor of the title a reference to all of your wide-ranging influences being crushed together into one big chrome ball?

CH: One big chrome ball...two big chrome balls. That's good, but no. Unfortunately a withered rug-end betwixt two particles which would be hard to distinguish in amongst a scattering of iron fillings would be more accurate on that score. It's not a metaphor either, it's a nautical term for the deepest operational level a submarine can go before the ridiculous tonnage of water pressure atop (maybe below and from the sides too - not sure about the physics) pulverises it.

It references the fact that it was sometimes extremely stressful getting it finished too. But initially, the name came from watching K19 The Widowmaker on the tour bus a couple of years ago.

You worked with James Ford on the album. How did you come to work with someone so seemingly rooted in indie?

CH: I wouldn't say he was rooted in indie, he has a very wide range of interests. Although I guess if you're talking about the high profile work, it might lead you to that conclusion. He also makes great bleepy techno with Jas in SMD of course. They got what we were doing straight away. We talked over some cheap wine about working together maybe three or four years ago, but like a mid-priced wine it actually took that long to come to fruition - which was probably for the best, as he was very empathetic towards this material.

Who knows, maybe in a couple of months when we have sold eight or nine units, we might be drinking the expensive wine and congratulating ourselves. That's the point of all this, right?!

Is it true that you recruited one of your members when they were just walking down the street? What qualities must an aspiring member of Chrome Hoof possess?

CH: Yes, but how else do you do it? I have confronted other musicians who have just looked me up and down, and walked away...We're lucky in Chrome, as all the members are here to share some good times and explore music. A good gang. Other qualities are realising this isn't really a paid job - logistics are against us, and we lose money from some shows.

Oh, and they must also have a ruined urethra too.

Are there a lot of classically trained musicians in the band? And does every member in the band have a different day job as well?

CH: I suspect Chloe (bassoon, sax) and Sarah (violin) might be classically trained, but that hasn't come up in conversation. Maybe two or three of the band has a full time job. There's a paramedic amongst us, and I have been working in a sewer processing plant for the last eight years. Actually you have raised a sore point, because I was just about to be promoted, but they gave the position to someone else because I was spending too much time away with the band. Gutted. At least the boss said he was slurry, but simply had no room to manureuvre [sic].

Our source informs us that when you played a gig on the continent recently, you all took some - ahem - medication before going on stage and, during 'Third Sun Descendant', Leo started headbanging and got the microphone jammed in his centurion helmet. Is that true?

CH: Your source is talking dry husk-bisk my friend. That all happened at different times, plus we've not played 'Third Sun Descendant' live yet. I think you mean the song 'Death Is Certain'?

You recently played a show at the Barbican with JP Massiera. How did that come about? What was he like to work with?

CH: [It] was a great moment to collaborate with JP. Been fans of his back catalogue for a long time. The record label Finders Keepers put us in contact with him. We spent a week with JP. He's like a more angular version of Serge Gainsbourg. A fearless producer who pushed experimentation in the studio with an unbelievable amount of ideas. Endearing enough, he couldn't remember a lot of his own tunes. He loves rose wine from 10:30 in the morning.

We're quite confused in the office. We saw your giant chrome goat being burnt a few years ago, then we saw it at Koko, but we didn't see it at the Royal Festival Hall recently. Is the goat only allowed to play low rent-venues in Camden? Why did you burn the goat? How is Colin, the goat operative?

CH: He was sacrificed and burnt at the alter. But like the psionic wanderer Jesus, rose again. Colin is fine, but has an easy job - sitting in the goats head, operating its servo controlled willy.

Can you put us out of our misery - we've spent the last three years singing "Moon rock" Let's put Garry Bushell in a bubble" from 'Tonyte'. Are these the correct lyrics? And, if not, what are? What should one do once they've put Garry Bushell in a bubble?

CH: Sorry, it's out of our jurisdiction to put you out of your misery. Let's just say you're right about the 'moonrock' bit. As for Mr Bushell, I guess you should pop the bubble he's in, so he can breathe some fresh air. I mean, that song is probably five years old now. Think how much shit and piss must be backed up in that transparent prison he's been in... according to you.

Finally, are you all good friends with Cathedral?

CH: For sure. We all share the love of interesting music.

The Quietus also has a special mix from Milo for you to enjoy. The tracklisting is as follows:

Piramis - 'Soha Nem Volt Ilyen Jo Neked'

Triumvirat - 'Illusions On A Double Dimple'

Chrome Hoof - 'Towards Zero' feat. J.P. Massiera

Whodini - 'Nasty Lady'

African Headcharge - 'Some Bizarre'

This Heat - 24 Track Loop

Visage - 'Night Train'

Acid Junkies - 'Sector 9'

Kate Bush - 'Sat In Your Lap'

The Police - 'When The World Is Running Down'

Angletrax - 'Anorexia Nervosa'

Chrome Hoof - 'Mental Peptides'

Tontos Expanding Head Band - 'Birds Fly Free'

Vangellis - 'Bacchanale'

Blue Pyramid

Unique 3 - 'Theme' (original chill mix)

King Crimson - 'Larks Tongues In Aspic'