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A Quietus Interview

"I'm Upfront About The Fact I'm A Fucking Nutter" - Guttersnipe Interviewed
Kevin Mccaighy , September 24th, 2018 09:14

The Quietus has long been of the opinion that Guttersnipe are one of the most exciting live acts in the UK underground, if not the entire world. Now with debut album My Mother The Vent due out next month on Upset The Rhythm, they have recorded material to match. Kevin McCaighy talks to Urocerus Gigas and Tipula Confusa about their incendiary sound. Garden and living room portraits by Abby Banks

"We are going down the ‘bizarro’ route rather than the ‘bleeding heart’ route... I’ve always been a weirdo and I thought, ‘Why have I not pursued that in my music?'"

A blizzard of sound and energy, Guttersnipe are in every sense a 21st century band. Unleashed from the always fruitful Leeds underground scene in 2015, these two noise rock miscreants have forged one of the most exciting and exhilarating duo bands currently at work today. Comprised of Urocerus Gigas (guitar, vocals, synth) and Tipula Confusa (drums, vocals, drum synth), Guttersnipe are a bilious concoction of technical prowess and visceral expression, a continual eruption of diametrical forces: Gigas’ flamboyant neo-shredding guitarwork is in thrilling contrast to Confusa’s catalytic, whip-cracking drums.

Their upfront confrontationalism was clear to this writer earlier this year during their blazing set at Wharf Chambers. Supporting US Black Metal duo RAGANA and noise team SBSM, Guttersnipe performed as viscerally as any live band I have seen in recent years, raging through their ‘songs’ at such a pace that they gave off the heat of a blast furnace. Their abandon and ferocity has gone down very well in the underground community not just in Leeds but around the UK as well as Europe. Fellow musicians such as Thurston Moore and Richard Dawson have become two of their most high-profile supporters.

Guttersnipe are as fierce as a musical proposition as Frank Lowe/Rashied Ali Duo Exchange but are without doubt a rock band - an intoxicating aural phenomenon that has finally been captured on their forthcoming debut album, the greatly anticipated My Mother The Vent. In an undisclosed nerve centre located within the countless red brick terraces surrounding Leeds University, Urocerus (exuberance personified) and Tipula (beaming and laconic) prove to be gregarious and voluble interviewees on everything from the origin of their band name to the ‘Belated School Of Beefheart’ (about which there is more later).

The exacting standards that Guttersnipe demand of themselves and their music is rooted in an avant garde sensibility that has long been a buried source of solace for so many underground musicians. Their place in this lineage will be delineated in due course, but to witness Urocerus and Tipula’s enthuse about just how far they have evolved as a band in such a short space of time is to see new life breathed into that vital subterranean tradition. This is reflected in the dazzling music selection that Urocerus and Tipula casually assemble for collective consumption as the day progresses. Everything from French post-punkers Lucrate Milk to occluded LA punk band Nervous Gender serves as a stimulating and searing backdrop to our conversation.

Please tell me about the name.

Urocerus Gigas: I love the meaning of the word, you know, somebody who is like the lowest member of society. Being the kind of person that I am, I feel like I am at the bottom of society. But I had no idea there were so many shitty punk covers bands with that name as well though! Sometimes people book us and don’t check and put a link to one of these hardcore bands! [laughs]

How long have Guttersnipe been going?

UG: We started in 2015 after Tipula’s punk band Etai Keshiki came to an end. They were kind of no wave, kind of screamo. Their singer/guitarist was a trans woman and the band were queer wimps in a really positive way. I thought that No Wave ended at the beginning of the 1980s, and Sonic Youth and Swans came out it, but that stuff was straight when you listen to a band like Scissor Girls or a band like US Maple. I had no idea about bands on Skin Graft. It was a totally new avenue for me. So, I was blown away by this No Wave band Etai Keshiki for so many reasons. The music was so ferocious, and the fact that it was coming from this bunch of skinny weirdos. I had stopped going to rock shows because I was intimidated by the prospect of having to get in a mosh pit with a fucking bunch of big guys, and I’m still not really into that experience. I like to dance! I’ve had to stop people and tell them that it’s totally inconsiderate. Yeah maybe there are a few tomboy tough girls that like to get in the brawl, but there are so many sensitive people that just cannot deal with that stuff at all. Seeing Etai Keshiki was the first time I had seen a band that was really extreme and cerebral and visceral: they really covered the key zones that rock music addresses, but without being macho. I was like, ‘Oh my god, they are the coolest people I’ve ever seen! I can’t even speak to them!’ I was hiding in a corner in the shadows! It’s funny though because they really weren’t “cool” and were actually very flattered by my enthusiasm, so we became friends very quickly.

What plan did you have?

UG: We are going down the ‘bizarro’ route rather than the ‘bleeding heart’ route, which was all I was doing before Guttersnipe, first as a metaller and then as a goth and shoegazer. I’ve always been a weirdo and I thought, ‘Why have I not pursued that in my music?’ I wasn’t aware of those art bands until Tipula introduced me to them”.

Tipula Confusa: A lot of that stuff comes out of punk.

UG: Yeah, and I was NOT a punk! I was a metalhead. I wouldn’t listen to it.

TC: But now you’re playing Crass in your DJ sets!

UG: I love it now but it’s hard to position yourself within that scene when you’re surrounded by burly hardcore bros, which I was, who were like, "If you’re a punk, you’ve got have a Subhumans patch on your jacket, boots and the right kind of haircut, you’ve got to be into the specific politics etc." And I wasn’t into that, I was into black metal, and the punks were really antagonistic to me for listening to Black Metal, which now I can appreciate their reasons for. But stuff like MARS and the Flying Luttenbachers, the experimental end of punk, to me it is way more punk than people playing UK Subs-style shit, which is totally traditionalist and doesn’t question anything. If it’s about challenging the status quo, then forward thinking music is the stuff that does that. It was a total point of divergence meeting Etai Keshiki in Leeds.

Being trans and having queer friends, my entry into the LGBT community was through dance music. After I left the metal scene, I started regularly going to Riff Raff, the acid/hard techno party which used to be held at the West Indian Centre in Leeds. It was the first time that I had hung out with LGBT people, but after a bad breakup with someone I used to go clubbing with, I stepped away from that scene for a while too. I had no idea that there even was a scene of queer people that were into extreme heavy rock music. Seeing this group who showed that you can be a fag and were kicking a LOT harder than other bands were the main things for me. My best friend and I moved to Leeds in 2013, as we were starting a course, and I’d started to try this new way of playing. It had all the dissonances in it. I tried to reject all kinds of rock and jazz time signatures – none of that tech shit, I’m just going to throw myself around and be a total weirdo then see if that works as an actual compositional method. Why had I never allowed that to be part of my music? Honestly, I thought no one would be into it.

It’s weird how you can police yourself that way, but that kind of identity policing is a big part of why I left the metal community. So it was great to hear new, mind-expanding music. Bad vibes in a more abstract but also human way. At the beginning I was going through a very bad time in my life and was extremely socially incapable, but would try desperately to hang out with Tipula and the others in Etai to try and figure out how they made their sounds, I was such a fangirl for that stuff!

TC: We had a lot of trouble making headway into outer realms due to resistance in the band. It was becoming more and more of a problem.

UG: I said to Tipula, "You know, we should do like a really crazy band where all cards are on or off the table - however you want to play it really!”

TC: [I said] "Either way, it’s got to be all of them."

UG: I was very upfront about the fact that I am a fucking nutter! I will never say that anything is too weird, or too difficult, or too extreme. I will always be up for it even if everyone else leaves the room. Etai only lasted another six months. First of all we were playing in our basement downstairs. We did unhinged vocal stuff plus whatever else we had lying around, it was pretty rough and ready. We did a lot of jamming together with my best friend and my brother and before Guttersnipe we were a four piece called Insect Ritual. We just did a lot of ferocious free improvisation jams, drums, two guitars and later tenor sax – we did a good few of those jams and recorded them all. Some of it is still up on Soundcloud I believe. We were listening to AIDS Wolf and Tunnel Canary as well as Sun Ra - a LOT of Sun Ra actually, as around this time Phil Todd gave us about 15 or more tapes with a different Sun Ra record on each side. It was really psychologically challenging, this was the real revelatory thing for me.

Your earliest incarnation involved a key collaborator who you were very keen to pay tribute to.

UG: Aming Liang was, like, busking in Leeds, playing the most bizarre guitar, you know Bill Orcutt, Keiji Haino style improv. I was totally mesmerised. I watched him for like 10 to 15 minutes and then gave him all of the money I had in my pockets. Then I asked him what he was doing: "Can we be friends and can we play together please?" He didn’t speak a lot of English but he was very enthusiastic and agreed to jam with us. He came down to our gig (at Wharf Chambers) the next day and then we did a lot of jamming with him – we recorded 12 cassettes of stuff with him and we still haven’t released any of it. I am planning a “best of” those recordings, taking the best bits and collaging them together. He was such an incredible guitar player. He’d really pushed the boat out and gotten into weird stuff. Jamming with him really challenged me as a player… I would have a million pedals on the go and run out of sounds in 15 minutes but he’d manage to continually coax the wildest tones from his very minimal setup, so I really had to think hard and try things I wouldn’t ever have done before. He was a physics student and he dropped out in his final year to be experimental guitar player. He was one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met.

The experimentation at the heart of Guttersnipe clearly took shape over an extended period of time, with the group using everything from costumes and varied instrumentation to develop their voluminous ideas.

UG: Our first show as Guttersnipe was in October 2014 with this amazing French surf punk/darkwave band called Ultrademon. They were phenomenal. We really were not sure about what we were doing, but people really got into it – and this was our first gig! (laughs). In initial phase we were trying to do mystical, free-improv jamming – trying all the sweets in the avant garde shop – oblique strategies, free score, free improvisation, doing stuff with contact mics, etc. Tipula made these beak masks with mics inside so that we didn’t have to use our hands. By the start of 2015 we didn’t quite have songs yet, but sort of ‘zones’ of things, so still improvisational. At one point I had this crazy idea, "What if I had a guitar style that was based on the guitar solos from Reek Of Putrefaction? What if I stretch that idea out so it’s my whole technique?" Of course, it was also informed by all the Skin Graft bands we’d been listening to, and everything else I’ve been exposed to. We got five songs together and did a demo in 2015, and our first gig after that was with Richard Dawson - we were such an odd pairing. But he really liked us actually! He was quite heavily responsible for us playing some bigger festival shows in 2016, like Tusk.

TC: That’s the answer to question one! [laughs]

Guttersnipe have made their reputation as one of the hard-working live acts at a time when venues are under threat as never before. This almost old-school approach to building a fanbase is perfectly in keeping with a group of bands you have spontaneously labelled The Belated School Of Beefheart. This includes most of the illustrious roster of Skin Graft Records such as US Maple, Arab On Radar, and the band that Guttersnipe consider their avowed avatars, the extraordinary AIDS Wolf.

UG: When I first heard Trout Mask Replica, I just thought it was hilarious, that it was the antithesis of the kind of highly ordered rock/ prog/ metal sounds I heard growing up. As a 13 year old I hadn’t really appreciated it. I only really associated that type of “bad” playing with a kind of absurd humour; I didn’t really get that something like that album could be serious or understand the amount of composition that had gone into it. Listening to that record, I still just can’t believe that it came out in 1969! How a regular rock track will just collapse into an atonal passage and then go right back into a rock track again. Beefheart appealed to me more just as like, “a crazy person”, you know! I loved the acapella tracks on there, the insanity, poetry recital, that was the shit that I was really into on the record for years.

It wasn’t until Tipula had introduced me to stuff like US Maple when I realised that it was all just like Beefheart. Well, not exactly like it but it was indebted to that era of the Magic Band. If you can actually play something that sounds like that record, then you must be doing something right, because that shit is impossibly difficult to play. The same with Lick My Decals Off, Baby, which I never listened to when I was younger but is now regularly playing in our car. You can’t even take it all in when you hear it. Captain Beefheart was the weird ingredient X in that mix; but those guys in his band were shit hot and without them he’d never have managed to make music sound like that – and they still never get the credit that they deserve. But yeah, I had no idea that all these Skin Graft bands were Beefheart fanatics. The first time me and Tipula hung out at his house, he played me the AIDS Wolf record Ma Vie Banale Avant-Garde, released in 2011, and I couldn’t believe how fucking relentless it was! I was just like, "I have to get this!" because like Trout Mask Replica, I still couldn’t really understand it but was utterly fascinated. I went online and got it for $7 – the most fucking out-there rock record for seven fucking dollars!

TC: We got it two years after it came out. They pressed 500 copies of it and then split up, due to lack of interest.

UG: That record is so abstract. It was so new for me. I bought it but I didn’t really get it, until Tipula and I were tripping, and I then got how bonkers this record really was.

The interplay in Guttersnipe is another breath-taking element to the live assault. Your seemingly wordless manner of communication is all about glances, subtle shifts of hands and feet, the slightest of adjustments - imperceptible but crucial movements that attest to both of your intense levels of concentration.

UG: We literally can’t play without that interplay! We don’t know how to count rhythms, we’ve got to look at each-other! Even when we were recording My Mother The Vent we still had to look at each-other, but very far across the room. It was really tough because I could only hear myself, and I normally hear what I’m doing in relief to what he’s doing. The magic happens in that meeting of the two voices in that space.

Having consummately honed your skills for live performance, what do think that your local scene gives you, and what is the current state of the UK underground touring circuit?

UG: Wharf Chambers is incredibly important in our timeline. So many of our early ventures happened there. There is so much happening [in Leeds], with insane bands playing and everyone in the crowd is either an artist or a musician. There’s no segregation between totally straight dudes and weird rock bands and queer people with blue hair – that was very important to me personally. I felt I was being welcomed into a community when I got there, you know? Tipula and I are both losers which I think is a good thing to be. Fuck being a winner! If you’re winning in this world then you’re probably an asshole! Leeds as a city was a huge turning point for me personally. There are little pockets of these real weirdos that have managed to keep doing their thing in obscurity for a long time. In general though I must admit that the UK is shitty for the kinds of bands we’d like to see. There might be one band in every town, at best, that we would want to play with. When we toured the UK in 2016, we managed to play with the few interesting folks that dwell in our grey isle. In Brighton, with two kids doing Throbbing Gristle type stuff, they were making a good effort, I appreciated it. Dylan Nyoukis on cassettes as well. In Bristol we played with...

TC: ...two guys from the Cosmic Dead playing comedy gabba!

UG: It wasn’t gabba because there was no distorted kick drum! [laughs] In Manchester we played with a band called Historically Fucked, they’re a really great, skewed rock band, one of our favourites in the UK. However, when we played in Lancaster, we played in a pub function room with a hearth and carpeted stairs. There were no plugs at the back of the stage and TC blew the power just by checking his drums as it was all hooked up to a decibel meter. Only two people turned up, and the landlord’s daughter said that we “sounded like a light sabre!” [laughs] That must be my favourite description that anyone has given us so far. Glasgow is always wicked. We played with this great band called Anxiety who have now split up. Weirdo hardcore stuff like Saccharine Trust. Their guitarist Seb is from York, so it's a small world. Edinburgh was with this killer band called Muscle Tusk.

Newcastle was madness, our friend Gwilly Edmondez [from the incredible dad and daughter duo YEAH YOU] who works at Newcastle University, asked us to do a “workshop” for some first year music students. We were told it would be some kind of guided improvisation but when we got there it was just a fully lit classroom, with about 15 music students all sat in chairs and a little stage for us to set up on. We played two or three tracks and then people got to ask questions about the music – it was so bizarre, really a situation we never expected to be in. Even stranger was that these kids seemed to quite like us, these two girls in particular were very enthusiastic to talk to us at the end and get this – they had never even heard any Sonic Youth! That really blew my mind. But yeah, even though there are lots of interesting musicians we love and respect, there was nowhere that had a band that sounded like us, no noise rock bands to be found anywhere.

Can you tell us what you've been up to recently and about your new album?

UG: My Mother The Vent is going to come out through Upset The Rhythm! after a long, long debacle of delays and hold-ups, which I won’t go into the specifics of. Our buddy Shakeeb Abu-Hamdan (Keeby) recorded and mixed it and Rashad Becker at D&M did the mastering. They did an excellent job! It sounds really sci-fi, haha. It is strange to hear our music in such high fidelity. With all that said though, unfortunately the recording was actually finished in late 2016 so the material isn’t exactly fresh by this point. But we do still play it live so it’s not so bad. People who have seen us play a lot will know these songs well by now hopefully! My only regret about the record other than its massive lateness is that I had to record my vocals when I was suffering from acid reflux induced voice loss and so I feel they are not my best. However, not to worry!

We’ve already recorded the follow-up album Mimicry Ring with much more familiar rough and ready tactics, which will probably also be released by UTR. We’re not sure when that will be, although we’re going to push for as quick a release as possible allowing for some breathing room from the first record. Even the songs from Mimicry Ring are well established in our live sets (there was in fact an ultra-limited cassette release of Mimicry Ring in October 2017 for our short tour/holiday in Belgium and The Netherlands) and so we have already written even newer material, two songs which are most likely going to feature on a split LP release with our comrades in severity CUNTROACHES from Berlin. This sprang up via a proposition from our dear old pal Andy Browntown (ex-Divorce, Kaspar Houser), who is starting a new label. To our continual amazement however, our lack of having a record to sell has not really in any way affected our ability to get gigs. I mean, we just played at Trip Metal 3 in Detroit along with some extra dates in Montreal and Hamilton (which was an incredible, life changing journey throughout). This was a huge success, even though we had basically zero merchandise (we had just ten T-shirts which only arrived in the post by the time we had already left Detroit).

Really, as much as I have for many years vehemently denounced the internet and technological post-modern culture in general, we have to be grateful for its destabilising effect on chronology and the manner in which people hear and consume recorded music (as well as bringing the disparate freak communities together from across the globe), as our situation would have been disastrous ten years ago. It really is a bizarre time to be alive. And it is an even more bizarre time to be making experimental music, where you don’t get booed off stage or play to an empty room, but unbelievably people pay for you to fly to their country to have a musical brain aneurysm on stage for half an hour! We aim to strengthen our fragile minds and bodies so that we can continue to pour every ounce of ourselves into this bizarre and punishing endeavour. Of course, we’re also working on new material, trying to take what we do into even weirder and more challenging territory. More dynamism. There are very extreme high and lows in our sound. We are most definitely a rock band, no doubt we are a rock band, not some noise shit, this is what rock music can be. It’s all rock music. Its abstract and unusual imagining of rock music, but it is rock music, ultimately.

My Mother The Vent is out on 26 October via Upset The Rhythm!