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Escape Velocity

"People Just Disappoint Me": An Interview With Detachments
The Quietus , November 16th, 2010 07:41

John Freeman talks to head-honcho Bastien Marshal about Blackpool, Black Celebration and black moods.

It has been said that people are bonded by a common experience. That being so Bastien Marshall and I will long remember our meeting for a moment of restaurant comedy magic. During our chat in a quiet Camden brasserie, the waiter tends to the table next to us which is populated by two middle-aged businessmen. Suddenly one of the men snaps back, arms spread like a seated crucifixion scene. The waiter has knocked an entire carafe of vin rouge over the gentleman's beige linen suit. A moment of shock and awe descends on the restaurant – it is a spillage of apocalyptic proportions. The victim sits in a daze, his outfit now almost entirely plum red.

The waiter shuffles off to eventually return with a teeny hand cloth as a final offering of his general ineptitude. When the men storm out muttering about "dry-cleaning bills," Bastien pulls his pint of lager closer to his chest. "They won't be coming back," he sagely observes.

Okay, so it's probably not the high point of Marshal's year, which has already seen him record with Simian Mobile Disco's James Ford and release a fine eponymous debut album with his band, the London-based Detachments. The album is inspired by dark 80's electronic pop – a cluttered genre in 2010. However, what marks the record out for further exploration is Bastien's sense of melody and the musical journey that unfolds over the 11 tracks. While opener 'Audio/Video' has the pure lines of the minimal-wave of Cabaret Voltaire, the album develops into bleak, experimental collages of noise inspired by everything from Depeche Mode to dubstep.

Marshall himself looks the part. Fine-featured (he's the product of Chinese and Irish parents), he arrives bedecked in a black trenchcoat and snug jeans. Previously the creative force of experimental post-rockers R3mote, Bastien is friendly and quietly cocksure, and his rich Lancastrian burr ensures that his sentences dance with an earthy timbre. After growing up in the holiday Mecca/hell-hole (delete as required) of Blackpool he moved to London and allowed music to finally seep into his every waking thought.

I interviewed The Heartbreaks recently who are from Morecambe. They spoke of the desolation of an out-of-season British seaside resort fuelling their musical outlook. You're from just down the coast – how has Blackpool inspired you?

Bastien Marshal: We were on the outskirts of Blackpool. [Fellow Blackpool alumni] Chris Lowe from the Pet Shop Boys goes on about how everyday he'd go down to the Pleasure Beach, but I didn't do any of that. My parents never took me to the Pleasure Beach actually, but I ended up working there when I was a student and had to make some money during the summer holidays. I was there six days a week. It was a brutalizing experience.

I worked there because it was easy money and it was quite easy to rob the tills. I probably shouldn't say that. I worked in the 'Haunted Hotel' for a bit and I had all these fucking spooky noises around me all day for six weeks. When Detachments came out with the first tune, 'Fear No Fear', people said it had a house vibe and sounded very haunted. We got a new genre there, then – haunted house.

There is certainly dark undertone to your sound. Was this influenced by what you listened to as a teenager growing up against a backdrop of 'kiss-me-quick' hats and invading stag parties?

BM: Yeah, absolutely. I used to go to the library and get tapes and CDs and copy them. I then back-tracked a lot of groups – I got into New Order and then Joy Division, The Cure and Depeche Mode. I became addicted to playing along to these songs. I was teaching myself keyboard and I was all about playing by ear. Every day I would be learning these fucking Depeche Mode songs when I got home from school.

I listened to a lot of early house stuff as well and still listen to house music every day. I've always been into black music and that might influence some of our rhythms. I like garage and grime and the hip-hop that is coming out of London. I'm interested in the menace that it tries to gather from the streets. Detachments have got a rhythmic awareness that most indie bands won't have a fucking clue about because they've not been into that musical world.

So, did you then come down to London with your first band, R3mote?

BM: No, I came down to London six years ago as a graphic designer. I did that for a few years in a corporate environment and it was really fucking depressing. It was really boring – you'd be measuring pieces of land and then calculate how much they were worth. In the end I just jacked it in because I was too depressed.

Also, by then I'd had a record out with Andrew Weatherall with R3mote. I just sent him a demo, and he called me up one day when I was at work and said 'It's Andrew Weatherall here, I wanna put your record out'. It was a really huge compliment and we got really good reviews of that record. That sowed the seeds of discontent with my graphics job and I decided to disappear from the office for a while. Then they hauled me in and said 'Your absence is impacting on the efficiency of the department and we'll have to offer you an ultimatum'. I loved the way they worded it.

It sounds like it wasn't too hard to decide to quit the day job under those circumstances...

BM: Yeah, just give me the money and I'll be gone. It didn't take long to make the decision. But sometimes you feel you are in limbo when things aren't really happening. After the R3mote thing there was interest from Universal but that didn't happen, so I fucked it all off and started Detachments up. Then [the] This Is Not An Exit [label] stepped in, as I'd randomly added them on MySpace. They had connections with DFA, Trevor Jackson and knew James Ford, blah blah blah.

Why did you feel the need to end R3mote and start a new band? What was your vision for Detachments?

BM: At the start, R3mote was a purely electronic band and it was just me, a laptop and a keyboard player. It was also a bit old-school British sci-fi inspired – 'Blake's 7' and 'Doctor Who' and all that. The live thing was very experimental and to a certain extent a bit of a joke. Detachments are more about being established as a live group, so it was guitar based when we started out.

I like The Chameleons, and at the time of starting Detachments I had something a little bit more like that in mind. I worked with Trevor Jackson at first, he produced 'The Flowers That Fell' and 'Messages', which were the first two singles we did on limited edition vinyl when we were in our embryonic stages. We'd take it out into a live environment with traditional guitar, bass and drums. I was looking at videos of it and it didn't really represent where we were at, not in my mind anyway. So, even though we've gone back to a synth sound now, we wanted a more visceral, physical sound to it.

Was this the reason for working with James Ford on the album? Did you have a plan to move back to more of a synth-based sound?

BM: No, not really. When I approach something it's not always set out like a business plan. Everything I've done has had an element of experimentation in it and a kind of honesty as well. For the next album, fuck knows where that will go. I don't want to plan these things - that's what makes it exciting for me. I like things to almost have a life of their own and letting the random elements guide you. That's when good things happen.

So, earlier this year, when we went into the studio with James he said he didn't want the other guys there. He knew I could play bass and guitar so if we needed anything I would play it or he would play it. In fact, he's played half the instruments on the album. We had ten days and worked 12 hours a day, so it was intense. We were experimenting with different arrangements so it was easier to just do it ourselves.

Yikes, how did the other bands members react to that?

BM: The guys were a little bit offended.

Detachments seems to take you on a musical journey. The first few songs are quite minimal and poppy, but by the end there is much more density and experimentation. I love the sonic flow. It did occur to me that you must have listened to Depeche Mode's Black Celebration a lot.

BM: [Laughs] Yeah, you're right. Spot on. I used to listen to Black Celebration almost every day when I was about 14. I liked the vividness of it and the imagery it conjures up. People say there is a real atmosphere on our album and maybe I've been influenced by listening to stuff like that. Towards the end of the album, something like 'Tread Along' is more My Bloody Valentine than New Order, we are using pure noise guitar and the beat was influenced by dubstep stuff I was listening to on pirate stations in London.

Lyrically, there are a number of songs that seem to rage against the general rat race. I'm assuming this reflects your discontent while working in the corporate world?

BM: Yeah, 'I Don't Want To Play' and 'You Never Knew Me' are about the rat race and about how the ideology people had when they were 18 and as they get older and move to London and get a job - they change. Most people just sell out like that [clicks fingers]. It's like the things they believed in passionately when they were 18 were a load of fucking bullshit. It's really sad and disappointing. It really disappoints me when people change. Especially when they are my friends; people who've ended up working in the City and just become cunts – self-serving and competitive but on a really petty level. That's what most people seem motivated by in life. There is so much more you could experience. Just read a fucking book for a start.

Is this a big theme for you? I never cease to be surprised about what comes out of people's mouths?

BM: I know, tell me about it. People have said there is an underlying despair on the album, and it's not quite despair but more a disappointment in people. Wherever I go I'll meet some people that really disappoint me on every level. I've got medical student friends who come out with things and you think 'and you're gonna be a doctor?'

On a lighter note, I gather you played with Peter Hook last year. As a New Order fan that must have been quite an experience? How did it come about?

BM: We got asked to contribute to a New Order tribute album by some people in the States who had got involved with the Salford Foundation Trust. Next minute they are asking us to play up there and Peter Hook is gonna join us on stage. You are speechless when you hear something like that.

When we met him he was really down-to-earth and all the clichés about him are right. He's quite rough round the edges and he's got that acerbic sense of humour. We were playing 'Perfect Kiss' and he came in and said 'fucking hell, I haven't heard that in years'. I was asking him 'come on Pete, you must have made a bit of money' and he was like 'look at you – typical fucking lead singer all about money'. We had a good laugh.

And what is next for Detachments? I assume you're not planning a strategy for world domination?

BM: Ha. We seem to be getting a lot of interest in France at the moment, so maybe we will try and export it all to Europe. We did a whole tour in Germany last year that went pretty well. Places like Leipzig went fucking crazy, they knew the lyrics and everything. Our sound when you trace it back has got that minimal wave influence going on, which informed the sessions we did with James Ford. We were listening to Cabaret Voltaire and that originates in France and Belgium.

Also, I'm always writing; I'm always sketching even if it's just into a Dictaphone. The other day I had something coming into my head that was like a gothic-surf tune. It was a bit different to Detachments, but I felt I had to record it.

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