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In Extremis

Gods Like Echo: Mark Dicker Interviewed
Luke Turner , July 1st, 2014 13:10

Ahead of his set alongside Grumbling Fur this Thursday, Palehorse member Mark Dicker tells Luke Turner about the means and methods behind his experimental cassette-released solo material

The last time The Quietus put Mark Dicker on a London stage it was in the summer of 2011 as part of noise rock bludgeoners Palehorse, who screamed and lurched and thundered in a way that a first on out of three bands so rarely does. Dicker is one of those figures that every city has and needs - a person of boundless enthusiasm, popping up at gigs whether noise, metal, industrial, progressive clattering, you name it, epitomising that an appreciation for underground music is for life, not just some poncing around on your tumblr. On Thursday night, supporting Grumbling Fur at excellent new venue Total Refreshment Centre, Dicker will be making a departure from the heaviness of Trencher and Palehorse to perform music based around his recent Talk Of The University cassette, which you can listen to below. These are edge-of-the-imagination-worrying drones, pulses of sound like funereal bells in slow motion, twittering magical birds and uncanny chants that hide a bit of a warped wit - "love me love my dog", commands a disembodied voice before the track descends into noise and pings, like sonar hitting the shattered metal of a doomed submarine. We dropped Mark Dicker a line to find out about this multi-faceted noise-making...

So Mark, tell us a about your earliest musical endeavours:

Mark Dicker: I started out banging on pots and pans along to the Grease soundtrack and abusing my grandmother's upright piano before convincing my folks to buy me a bass, and the first song I ever wrote was called 'Decomposing Bumblebee'.

I started jamming screamo with some friends, which eventually morphed into Trencher. We did that for quite a while, made a couple of records, and toured all over. I then got the offer to join Palehorse, who I knew from the Trencher days and started recording electronic/noisey stuff as Twilit Grotto. I decided to change that to Mark Dicker after too many people thought I was saying Toilet Grotto, and also to make me feel more important. I've released a few cassettes.

Do you do this kind of music to seek relief from the all-out racket of Palehorse?

MD: I would say yes, except I was doing this before Palehorse, so no.

How did you go about putting together the Talk Of The University cassette?

MD: I had some tracks brewing that I could tell I'd be very happy with once finished - they came about during a time of intense emotional upheaval, and came together very well and very quick. My friend Manjeev runs a little label called Bunkland and mentioned his interest in releasing something, as he'd enjoyed the last Twilit Grotto release, Holiday Snaps. He was super efficient and I'm very grateful for that.

Can you tell us about the artwork, and the symbolism thereupon?

MD: It's just a drawing I did, a take on the Hand of Fatima - the symbols within the hand do have some significance to me. I don't believe in the actual power of charms but I do appreciate what they represent symbolically - they can be powerful and persistent reminders of how one should behave. I have another cassette release due at some point on a little Berlin-based label called Econore which will have evil eye imagery - I love the Turkish evil eye, the Nazar Boncugu.

What are your inspirations for this music, musical and otherwise?

MD: For this one, loss and London. For 'Holiday Snaps' it was travel experiences. Inspiration can come from anywhere and often by surprise. I'm working on stuff at the moment where the idea behind the material is that I had observed how certain physical/scientific phenomena, such as the Doppler effect for example, mirrored personal, emotional experiences in an almost allegorical fashion.

Do you start with a firm idea, or is it all improvised? What was the biggest surprise about how it emerged?

MD: Usually a mix of both, it's good to have an idea of what you want to achieve but also to allow for whatever contingency you might not have considered. The above-mentioned new material I'm working on is by far the most focused I've been in terms of planning out what I'd like the end result to be, probably because it suits the theme. The forthcoming Econore cassette came about through almost pure improvisation - just me, a bunch of oscillators and effects pedals and four hours live in a studio. I really enjoyed that, it came out well!

How do you go about your field recordings? Are they generally happy accidents or sought out? Can you tell us what some of them are, or do you feel that part of the magic of using field recordings is the mystery of their provenance?

MD: The field recordings were pot luck, quality-wise, as they were just done on my phone when the moment seemed right. One has special significance, the 'Dies Saturni' one, because of the circumstances that it was recorded under, but that is a private matter. The bells on the first track, 'Hell Is A Grammar School To This', are St Paul's Cathedral. My phone did such a shitty job of picking them up that it actually added a lot of digital artefacts and distorted them quite nicely/nastily. I do like the idea that field recordings can provide a clue to intention without being explicit, it gives the listener something to try and decode and they can be engaging for this reason - other times, they just sound right - no deeper meaning or mystery required.

I especially like 'Dies Saturni', which is the Latin for Saturday but the track sounds like the lament of a unquiet monastic soul, trapped in a future desert. Are your vocals there based on a religious chant?

MD: The vocals on 'Dies...' came out quite fortuitously - the lyrics are about how one's perception of time can move incredibly fast and slow simultaneously. I tried for ages to get them sounding right at a fairly brisk pace, about 10 or 12 attempts - it didn't work, I did one pass very slowly and it fitted perfectly. I think the great wash of reverb I dolloped on top of them created the religious sounding quality. Gods like echo apparently.

What equipment do you use?

A variety of synths and noise boxes, plus a bunch of effects pedals - my favourite effects are always the time-based ones - reverb, delay, echo etc. I don't use much distortion - I find the juxtaposition of frequencies, particularly the extreme ones, far more ear-pleasing than simply smothering stuff in distortion and fuzz.

What's the appeal of a cassette release?

MD: I have a soft spot for cassettes, whereas a lot of people don't. Probably because I lived through their heyday, bought my first Iron Maiden and Cure albums on cassette, used to make mix tapes for friends etc. Ultimately, they're a very flawed medium for musical transfer, quality-wise, but I like them as objects - I like how you can see the mechanics of how they work, I like their magnetism. The ones we used for Talk Of The University are 'prison cassettes' - they're completely transparent, presumably so that people can't use them smuggle naughty things in to prison.

Do you have any methods of getting into a particular headspace when recording?

MD: A little but not too much marijuana, some push-ups and as few other distractions as possible. And some tangy cheese Doritos.

When are Trencher going to release a new record? And Palehorse?

MD: Trencher - who knows? We're all a bit busy with other things. Seems like there's good business to be done on the reformation circuit these days. I did always want to do a Carry On-themed Trencher record called Carrion Follow That Camel. Palehorse? We're on the case, just not as far as we'd like. We all have to agree on at least half a dozen suitably crap, bad-pun song titles before writing can begin in earnest.

Mark Dicker plays alongside Grumbling Fur at Total Refreshment Centre in Stoke Newington this Thursday, July 3rd. For tickets go here