The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Escape Velocity

Progress Versus Destruction: Jupiter-C Interviewed
The Quietus , March 4th, 2014 07:05

Jupiter-C make brooding, minimalist pop odes to surveillance, technology and the anxiety of contemporary urban life.

As Jonathan Meades pointed out in a recent documentary for the BBC, brutalism, after much punishing vilification, is at last beginning to be lauded for its muscular aggression and cold, strident beauty, over half a century since its original heyday. It's a tumultuous architectural history that self-proclaimed retrofuturists Jupiter-C are familiar with, as Ashiya Eastwood points out when we meet for coffee at the Barbican on an overcast February lunchtime. "They thought creating streets in the sky would bring communities together, [but] actually it did the complete opposite. It's that contrast between the ideals of the times and then being able to look back on it that really interests us." It's a marked statement, especially given our surroundings: a colossal concrete labyrinth set in the heart of a churning metropolis, one that in 2003 was voted London's ugliest building and condemned as "dreary and unimaginative".

Ashiya Eastwood and David Kane make music very much concerned with inner city dwelling, with great grey towers that puncture the sky, or buildings that rumble forwards over urban wasteland. I first came across their project Jupiter-C in June last year, after receiving an email attached with potential tracks for an unsigned music column. We kept in contact, and over the coming months a string of tracks fell into my inbox: brooding, minimal odes to surveillance that feel as though they could have been played as Winston Smith sipped Victory Gin in the Chestnut Tree café ('Insect Eyes'); viscous, consumer-condemning pop ('Signs'); slurred guitar riffs that ominously lick away at stuttered drums and hypnotic vocals ('Terminal'). These are songs centred around potentially nightmarish aspects of modernity: unchecked consumerism and gentrification, technological development, cemented to anxieties about a barren, degenerated future.

Eastwood and Kane first met about six years ago at a house party in Manchester. It transpired they had mutual friends, as well as a shared love of, amongst other things, Philip Glass, The Fall, and dystopian landscapes and literature. After both leaving Manchester in 2009, and consequent periods of losing touch and pursuing separate musical endeavours, while both living in London in late 2012 they decided to collaborate on a musical project that threaded together their common interests.

"The things I always wanted to bring into music, before I was doing Jupiter-C, were always sneered at by the people I was writing or playing with," says Kane. "[With Jupiter-C], we wanted to think about our music as art, and use intertextuality to bring in the books that we read and the art that we love."

We should start by talking a little bit about your recent tour with East India Youth. How was it?

Ashiya Eastwood: It was amazing and really surreal. Until doing this tour we had only really done support for bands that hadn't picked us, where promoters had put them with us. So to do a tour with someone like East India Youth and actually be really passionate about the music he does and also for him to be into what we do, that made it a lot more exciting.

David Kane: Glasgow was definitely the one where people would come up to us after and compliment us. We went into it with a lot of people not knowing who we were; the first show of the tour was our sixth gig in total. We'd only done a handful of shows down in London and then to go on this UK tour and get the reception we did was absolutely brilliant.

Have you been working on some new songs? I'm sure I heard a few new ones creep into your set at The Lexington.

AE: 'Holiday'. Yeah that's one we've actually been playing live for months now. And 'Testing Ground', we actually only started playing on this tour. We had no idea how we would do it live because the recording was so layered with loads of different vocals and noise. We're pretty pleased how it's come out live. I like the fact that live, especially David's guitar – that changes every single time we play. Using the Electribe – so you've got the drum machine, with the synth and bass posts in it – that can be quite constricting if you don't do much on top of it.

What's the song with the big sludgy guitar riffs where David does the vocals? I don't think I've heard that one before.

AE: 'Decrier'. That's one of our oldest tunes actually.

DK: I had that riff before we'd even started Jupiter-C. It was something I was just messing around with, and I didn't think I would put it forward to other bands. I was always in blues and garage bands in the past, and I'd have guitarists that just wanted to put insane solos and riffs over the top of that. That's the thing with working with Ashiya, she knows her way around an Electribe or a synth and it works really well with the guitar parts.

I wanted to talk a bit about [J.G.] Ballard, as he seems like quite an important influence to you both. What was your initial foray into his work, have you been reading him for a long time?

AE: Growing up my mum always used to say, "You can read Ballard but you can't read Crash because it's the most disturbing thing you'll ever read." So I got it on Amazon.

Immediately afterwards?

AE: [laughs] Yeah, I got it delivered to my friend's house and went over and got it and read it in secret. I was about 17, 18, when I read High Rise and it completely changed everything for me. Just to read something so profound that you can see it reflected everywhere that you look around. That lead me on quite a strong path of in terms of the art I was doing at uni and the books that I continued to read. It's just that way that he predicted so much stuff that has happened.

Didn't he write a piece for Vogue in the 70s where he seemed to anticipate social media?

DK: Yeah. Didn't he also predict Regan getting into presidency? I have Ashiya to thank for my foray into Ballard. She introduced me to High Rise, and then from there I just started devouring things. There's moments in life, no matter what point in life your at, you always come across something that levels the playing fields and kind of changes everything. For me, High Rise was that moment. I've always had a fascination with dystopia, the way that we represent our emotions through these visions of the future.

I think dystopia gets under people's skin because it's often quite prophetic. You read things like 1984 now and it doesn't feel like a dystopian novel, it feels like a novel about the present. There's a certain timelessness to it.

AE: It is scary, I read it ten years ago first and in ten years so much has changed. The amount of technology and surveillance that we have now, just in that quite short period of time, it's just the rate that everything gets more extreme. It is scary.

DK: I read an article in a science journal once about the process we go through in the way we touch our touch screen phones. It's almost like the same way you build an attachment to a pet or an animal, you're stroking it and it triggers the same sort of emotions in your brain. So when people become detached from their phone, that's when they develop anxiety from being away from it, because you're used to touching it and the interaction that you have.

What was it about The Terminal Beach that particularly inspired you?

AE: The imagery more than anything. I was talking to you the other day about Thamesmead and South East London, and that really reminds me of it. Thamesmead was built for people who had moved out of slums. It's sprawling and it's just set in wasteland. They've got man-made lakes full of shopping trolleys and litter. All the shops are completely boarded up, apart from two or three, and everyone that lives there is very aware of the other people who live there. I read The Terminal Beach after going to Thamesmead and then I came back to Thamesmead again. It really resonated with me because there are places like that across the UK, just these abandoned, bleak, empty places.

DK: The whole thing that fascinates us both is there's an exciting element of humanity where we pursue certain elements of technology and art development and progress as a species, but then there's this destructive element to it. I think the idea that [in The Terminal Beach] there’s this landscape purposely constructed be destroyed – that's a symptom of being human, is that we progress and we build things and we ultimately destroy them in one way or another, and I think we get that from things like Thamesmead. That was purposely built for social housing, but then it was just left to go into disrepair. The people that moved in, it was convenient to move them there for one part of society and to not maintain it, and then you see this destructive side of society happen.

I wanted to talk a bit about your videos. What's the thinking behind the archive footage used?

AE: Adam Curtis is a big influence. I mean obviously his [films] are a lot more slick. It's all a bit DIY with us. If we want to put a song online we like there to be a visual aspect. Down the line we'd like to have visuals live, which I think would work really well. So I think we're just slowly building up this archive of what we'd like it to look like. It's so low resolution; the kind of stuff we've done so far wouldn't look good blown up. It's just experimental at the moment, just us having a bit of fun with it.

DK: The whole idea of consumption is in there as well. We did that for 'Signs'. Generally we'll have an idea and we'll spend hours sometimes just seeking out this footage. It is quite carefully done.

I noticed you used footage of the demolition of the Hulme Crescents in Manchester from the 90s. Does that film have any personal relevance to either of you?

AE: My dad actually lived there in the early 80s. In the late 70s it started to get a really bad reputation, people who were living there were getting moved out in the masses. In the early 80s there were a lot of creative people who were poor, working class people who needed places to live, and the council were basically offering these out for next to nothing. Apparently if you went to the council office they'd give you five sets of keys and say, "right, go and pick somewhere". Everyone just went a bit mad with it, they turned one of them into a swimming pool, and one of them into a bar, one a nightclub.

Some of my dad's friends were in a group called A Certain Ratio, and they had a thing where every single room was a certain colour. So in one room everything was red. Everything had to be red. It's a bit weird and creepy, but their flat overlooked a primary school and they used to mic it up, and they'd record the sound of the kids at playtime and have it pumping through the flat. Then apparently it became quite a dark place pretty quickly. Drugs moved in and there was a lot of violence and people started to get out of there. It's weird now, Hulme, it's yuppie paradise now. It's still sort of got that element in parts, but it's also got a lot of very nice, modern terraced houses.

DK: We spliced that footage with a Japanese sci fi B-movie. Ashiya put the Hulme footage in and I found this Japanese footage with these ridiculous creatures destroying the landscape. For me the kind of imagery that we wanted, to place destruction in this modern context, created by these ridiculous monsters.

A lot of the footage you use is quite nostalgic. It's interesting how the dichotomy between that works with the forward-facing aspects of your music.

AE: We're really interested in that period going up from the 50s to the 80s. In the mid 20th century they thought that by now we'd be flying around in spaceships.

DK: There was quite a lot of excitement, hope and also a lot of really deep anxiety then. It comes back to progress versus destruction, and I find that the most fascinating aspect. We try to put a lot of that into our music, that whole idea of progress versus destruction, dissonance and harmony – that battle we face on an everyday basis.

Jupiter-C play the Waiting Room, London, this Thursday 6th March. You can buy their music here.