The name doesn't ring a bell?
Probably because the driving influence behind much modern music keeps a low profile.
Sean Long talks to a contradictory dynamo.
You may not have heard of Justin Broadrick, but you have heard him. Heard him in the outputs of the myriad artists that have professed his voluminous body of work highly influential and inspiring, or heard the fruits of his sonic excursions wilfully plundered by the unscrupulous. Tricky, Metallica, Faith No More, Danzig, Ministry, Helmet, Devin Townsend, the Beastie Boys and Fear Factory are just a few to admit being influenced by his work in one guise or another. Best known for his Godflesh creations, multi-instrumentalist Broadrick (along with Godflesh partner Ben Green) is widely credited with pre-empting the industrial-rock revolution by over a decade. Godflesh, along with Killing Joke, were creating brutal and noisy yet (arguably) danceable guitar-driven mayhem while Marilyn Manson was known to his friends as Brian Warner and Nine Inch Nails were yet to exist. Not so widely known are Broadrick's typically obscure, but nonetheless influential explorations in other genres. Nineties-dub, ambient, grindcore, drum and bass, minimalist techno, noise-rock, jazz-metal and mutant hip-hop have all been bastardised and shaped by Broadrick or one of the multifarious projects he has been involved with. Having contributed to well over sixty genre-bending singles and albums in the past thirteen years (not including compilation appearances, production and remix work), Broadrick is currently promoting his eighth Godflesh album, the forthcoming Us and Them. "It really is that many?" He asks. "It's pretty mad! I never actually think, "Fucking hell, I've done that much music". The strange thing is, I may have done that much, but I still feel like I'm just beginning. I feel like I've barely touched the surface of what I'm trying to do". Modest, really, for someone who has permanently altered the face of music.
Broadrick's modus operandi is one of constant obsessive evolution. "We just try to twist things up and mutate things. We're constantly looking for music. When something fresh and new hits us, we're there. We're just constantly hunting out new excitement in music. We're taking what we can from music, we get inspired by it and we twist it up inside our own context". Within Godflesh, this initially involved uniting the once disparate organic and synthetic; ultra-heavy riffs melded with drum machines, loops and bleak industrial soundscapes. Later incorporations would see acid house, hip-hop and dub influences woven into the core fabric of the Godflesh sound, though omnipresent guitars and tortured vocals oddly resulted in the notoriously conservative metal scene supporting the band as vociferously as melancholic industrialists and beard-stroking experimentalists. Us and Them is Godflesh's first studio release since 1996's Songs of Love and Hate, and casual listeners might again be challenged by apparent changes in direction. "It's the most wide-ranging album that we've done for Godflesh. A lot of stuff I do on the peripherals of Godflesh has seeped a bit more into this record. The discipline is still there, but we've just tried to shape it a bit looser and incorporate a lot of things, but still be as direct, and retain the traditional Godflesh formula of being pretty fucking dark and brutal really," he self-depreciatingly laughs. Us and Them paradoxically contains both an abundance of fierce drum and bass and hip-hop driven breakbeats and hitherto seldom seen liberal doses of melody. Experienced Godflesh listeners would have foreseen the increased infusion of breakbeats. Both 1992's Pure and Songs of Love and Hate contained plenty of proto-breakbeat science, as did 1997's Songs Of Love And Hate's evolutionary remix counterpart, Love and Hate in Dub. Given Broadrick's hunger for fresh sounds, his involvement in the burgeoning drum and bass scene was perhaps inevitable, new musical developments usually incorporated into numerous facets of his work. Despite breakbeats having long infiltrated side-projects Ice and Techno Animal, this obsession has recently culminated in the permutated Us and Them and the release of two twelve inches under his Youpho moniker on respected drum and bass labels. Broadrick's love for the genre stretches far beyond contrived and patently embarrassing bandwagon jumping of bands like Skunk Anansie and Pitchshifter. "Drum and bass has had such a huge impact on me because it's the only form of music as a genre that I can relate to, now and for about the past two years. It's so fresh; it's still mutating all the time. Why I hold it over most other music is because it has a lot of qualities I don't hear in other music any more. It has some of the most dark and brutal tracks you can hear in music currently. It's got abstraction, breakbeats, aggression, it speaks volumes to me. It's touched me really hard since 92 or 93, but it's become a very big part of my life in the past two years because I've been making the stuff, really".
Less predictable has been his expanded use of melody. Euphonic beauty has been a staple feature of his beatless ambient project Final, and uncharacteristic melodicism has intermittently been seen in Godflesh tracks such as 'Frail', 'Mantra', 'Empyreal' and 'Slateman'. Us and Them, however, contains as much unrestrained use of melody as the entire Godflesh back catalogue. "I've always seen a lot of majesty and beauty in Godflesh, but obviously the context is a lot blacker [than Final]," Beach Boys and Leonard Cohen obsessive Broadrick explains. 'The bottom line with any music, whatever context I'm operating in, is that it's got to have an extreme emotional content. I think beauty in its extreme is extreme; as much as something that is really black or dark, or something really brutal, or sad, or minimal. As long as it's got an extreme emotional content, I'm there'.
The former Napalm Death member has long been unifying extremes. Napalm have long since imploded in a Spinal Tap-esque parody of themselves, containing no original members. Broadrick formed the outfit in the mid-eighties with prodigious but since-jailed and musically retired Nick Bullen, the mercurial Mick Harris soon following. That particular line-up only lasted a brief period, but pioneered the band's sound, and recorded the first side of half-million selling debut Scum (1987). Combining extreme punk and extreme metal, It was the first significant recording for each member, and one that almost single-handedly created the grindcore genre. Not bad for a bunch of sixteen year olds. "It was the start of everything I ever did. I'm still chuffed about it to this day. For a record we just made flippantly, it's just so strange". Broadrick, though proud of his achievement, is happy to laugh off his anarcho-punk roots. "I was pretty militant, we were pretending to be activists. We thought we were going to change society". Most people do, don't they? "Yeah, you get into shit like that, and two years later, you're laughing. It became obvious to me that it's all dogma. And I hate dogma".
Lyrically, Us and Them is much more focussed, direct, and self-confessedly 'less pretentious' than many past releases. In 'Bittersweet', for example (I'm invisible…/Be what I want to be/You won't hear me/But you'll feel me), Broadrick perhaps takes a swipe at the absurdity of his position; being an artist who influences outfits who sell thousands - in some cases millions - more records than he is ever likely to. Past experience in all arts fields has told us that this is not an uncommon irony, and one that Broadrick is acquiescent to. "It's a struggle to keep living. The problem is that we don't compromise, everything that we do is a non-compromise situation. We're resigned to the fact that we'll never sell shitloads of records, but we can do alright. I don't know what it is to pander to anything commercially acceptable. If anything of ours became really, really popular, it would purely be an accident. The whole gameplay of the music industry is something we really shy away from". Again, he unleashes his infectious laugh. "Our only talent is making music, we're shit at everything else". Surprisingly, major labels sporadically sign Broadrick's work. Virgin has released albums by The Sidewinder, Techno Animal and God, all hideously uncommercial boundary-pushing conspirations between Broadrick and frequent collaborator Kevin Martin. Godflesh notoriously once signed a respectable deal with Columbia, subsequently delivering the abrasive Selfless and producing a ensuingly MTV-banned video with equally acclaimed and reviled photographer/sculptor Andres Serrano and performance artist Bob Flannagan. They were quickly dropped. Broadrick must have experienced déjà vu when friends and tardy creative geniuses My Bloody Valentine indirectly landed Broadrick, Martin and co. a Warner Brothers / Reprise deal for the dark-hop insanity of last year's Ice release, Bad Blood. "Obviously it was totally uncommercial, we sold hardly any records, and they dropped us. But we took some more corporate money, which was a pleasure. We're getting pretty good now at one-album deals with major labels. We just take as much money as we can and get dropped. It's quite a pirate mentality really". The thought of a sabre-wielding, eyepatched Broadrick makes us both laugh.
Therein lies perhaps the most fundamental Broadrick paradox. Associated with plenty of dark, angry, claustrophobic, threatening, experimental and beautifully deranged music, one would expect him to be something of a misanthropic introvert. That his record company press release labels him a 'hermit' and that he has been associated with the term 'isolationist ambient' does not help. Fortunately, the opposite is axiomatic from his first cheery greeting. It is rare that a telephone interview will produce such a strong sense of character, but after eighty minutes, I feel I have gained acquaintance with Broadrick. He reveals himself to be impish and affable, passionate, articulate and intelligent; equally comfortable discussing surrealist film directors or music theory. "I'm a total social animal!" he retorts, seemingly mystified by such nonsensical accusations. "Basically, I'm a good natured, good humoured person." Pausing, he concedes, "But I do make some of the bleakest, horribilest music".
Us and Them marks another departure from Godflesh tradition, being recorded and mixed over two years, opposed to their usual fast-in, fast-out studio process. Creating a 'visionary' release, the process was "much more beneficial than any other record we've made. It gave us time to grow with the record, and regurgitate songs over and over again. It [Us and Them] changes so much, not just in terms of songs and content, but in production. You get a lot of different angles; you can hear how much time has been spent in terms of crafting and stylising each song. It's the polar opposite of an album like [1994's] Selfless, which was written all around the same time, and recorded in such a one-dimensional way, all in one block". The latest release is, as always, self-produced. "We're absolutely self-obsessed!" he chuckles when asked why. "We know exactly what we want. When we set about a record, we know how we want it to sound. I couldn't actually tolerate the idea of someone else telling us where we could go. It's a very focussed vision".
When Broadrick's vision occasionally falters, it is due to its often-experimental nature. Experimental music, by definition, does not always work. However, the rewards to listener and musical culture from such work are immeasurably greater than that of insipid mainstream material, a fact that Broadrick is happy to accept. "There's probably as much Godflesh stuff I could sit and pick to pieces as a Solaris B.C. [his minimal techno project] twelve inch, for example. I moan about everything I do, really. I'm never fully satisfied with anything, but I think it's quite important to keep your feet on the ground like that. I think if ever I made a record, and thought "That is the best!" and it still sounded brilliant a year later, I'd probably give up. It's like your job is done, really. But I can never see myself making something I'm 110 percent happy with". "I see myself still going when I'm sixty or seventy, you know. I'll never stop making music. It's an obsession. And it's my life".
With an array of frequently obscure material to choose from, where does one begin when searching for recorded highlights of Justin Broadrick's multi-genre career? Broadrick and Sean Long explore ten of his very finest moments.
NAPALM DEATH - SCUM - (Earache, 1987)
Sounding remarkably like Crass in early incarnations, Broadrick (guitar) and Bullen (bass, 'vocals') began their ventures into extremity around the same time that Harris (drums) joined the outfit. Within two years of Harris joining, Broadrick and Bullen had left the band, but not before they had combined two genres, invented the 'blast beat', recorded half an album and pioneered grindcore. Though Broadrick only wrote and appeared on the first twelve tracks of the later-released Scum, his debut contribution is so monumental - and legendary - that it deserves attention. Ludicrously extreme, most tracks fall well short of two minutes, with one, the .75 second 'You Suffer' gaining widespread notoriety as the then shortest song in the world. Simply one of the heaviest albums ever, the album reveals Broadrick's youthful punk-inspired innovation, laying a blueprint for all future extreme metal. "We got exposed to early death metal, and early fast American hardcore. We just thought 'We can play faster than that'. And we did. We purely got notoriety from being the fastest band in the world". Sheer ear-grating atonality, with Bullen's anarcho-lyrics utterly undecipherable, even with a lyric sheet. Brilliant.
GODFLESH - STREETCLEANER - (Earache, 1989)
An obvious choice. Long praised as the definitive Godflesh release, Streetcleaner saw a full distillation and realisation of ideas presented on their 1988 self-titled debut. Broadrick (guitar, vocals) and Green (bass) united with 'machines' and occasional contributions from since-departed extra guitarist Paul Neville to create one of the first fully-fledged industrial-rock albums. Breathtakingly brutal guitar riffs merge with distorted bass and synthetic dance rhythms, while layered swathes of guitar 'noise' and feedback fight for space with treated vocals, loops and eerie samples. The respected Alternative Press recently declared Streetcleaner one of the most important albums of the nineties. Notable for an album not even released this decade. "It changed my life!" Broadrick exclaims. "It was an album born out of spite. It's a really nasty record, vicious. It somehow got us to a bigger audience, we never expected to sell more than a few thousand records worldwide". Broadrick first teamed up with Green and Neville while still in Napalm Death to drum with the proto-Godflesh, short-lived, Fall of Because. Many original Fall Of Because songs ended up on Streetcleaner, albeit in radically reworked form. A blueprint for future Godflesh releases, and one that has been widely xeroxed since. Despite the bleak lyrics, relentless repetition and severe production, it is cohesive and strangely catchy in places. All fourteen tracks are superlative modern-industrial classics.
SCORN - VAE SOLIS - (Earache, 1992)
Bored with their aimless direction, Mick Harris departed the wholly-organic Napalm Death in 1991 to explore the possibilities of technological compositions. Harris quickly re-established contact with Bullen, and the pair set about recording their debut release under the banner of Scorn. Though not a true collaboration in that guest-guitarist Broadrick purely endowed Harris and Bullen's creations, Vae Solis contains some of his most simple-yet-brilliant performances. "It's so my guitar playing, but it's simplified. I abbreviated everything I normally do, I think the guitar parts were very effective for that reason. It's a very good album in places," Broadrick elucidates. Vae Solis is the recorded document of a band finding its feet, opening with tracks not far removed from early Napalm Death; more importantly exploring ambient dub and beatless ambient later in the album. Numerous obscure film samples and Bullen's mysterious minimalist vocals flavour the release. The post-industrial dub of 'On Ice' and 'Heavy Blood' are both standouts, benefiting enormously from Broadrick's haunting and mesmerising guitar abstraction. Harris now works solo, but he and Bullen later created the astonishing nineties-dub masterpiece Evanescence (1994), also labelled by Alternative Press as one of the decade's most important releases.
GOD - POSSESSION - (Venture/Virgin, 1992)
Possession opens in a similar vein as Helmet's Betty, with a solitary, grainy, repeated guitar phrase. Possession, however, soon explodes into a maelstrom of pure jazz-terror with a ferocity never approximated by Page Hamilton or his cohorts. Saxophonist and composer Kevin Martin's influential but now disbanded God outfit produced 'experimental jazz metal' (for want of a better explanation). God's fluid line up usually contained three bassists, tenor, alto and baritone saxophonists, two drummers, clarinets, violas and didgeridoos, and here, featured nutcase composer John Zorn. Broadrick contributed frenzied, abstruse heavy-jazz guitar to this and 1994's The Anatomy of Addiction. Like Vae Solis, Broadrick was not implicitly involved in the construction of the release, writing only his guitar parts, but Possession is important in that it reveals another rarely-seen side to his work. "Kevin would want my guitar in the albums, so really, I'd just come down and play. Possession is an incredible album, it's vast in what it does to the idea of jazz, mutating jazz. But not in a wanky, avant-garde sense". It's not as inaccessible as you might think - resurrected Miles Davis on very strong acid, perhaps.
ICE - UNDER THE SKIN - (Pathological, 1993)
"This really pulled together me and Kevin Martin. It made us get our heads together about things we wanted to achieve in music. Even though it's a very little known record, it's a very important record". Probably the most obscure release to be included in Alternative Press' recently published list, Under the Skin is a dubby, bass-heavy, guitar and sample driven psychedelic pastiche. Released on Martin's since-defunct indie label Pathological (the release now being quite hard to find), it is a nineties post-rock prototype. Surprisingly, Tricky 'loved' this release, sampling it and unsuccessfully attempting to recruit Martin for his Maxinquaye debut. Broadrick's rich-toned guitar wails over an intricate sonic miasma, where half-buried samples compete to be heard amongst the glorious mixture of immense-sounding live percussion, loops, saxophones and Martin's rasping vocals. Not quite so dark as many Broadrick / Martin collaborations, but as furious as ever. Highlights include the depraved, total guitar-overload of '.357 Magnum is a Monster', the chilling, repetitive 'Stick Insect' and the cut-and-paste dance intensity of 'Skyscraper'. Demonstrates Broadrick and Martin's knack for creating highly innovative, previously unconceptualised soundscapes.
TECHNO ANIMAL - RE-ENTRY - (Virgin, 1995)
Re-Entry would make the perfect soundtrack to a J.G. Ballard novel. Dripping with malice, tracks such as 'Cape Canaveral', 'Mastodon Americanus' and 'Demodex Invasion' not only enunciate like Ballard story titles, but are easily imagined as the sonic equivalent of post-apocalyptic landscapes. Broadrick and Martin created a visionary release; with the double-album's twelve tracks ranging in length between seven and twenty minutes, Re-Entry is not for the faint hearted. Divided into two distinct halves, both discs are a melange of heavy dub and hip-hop beats fused with intricate soundscaping and groaning industrial malevolence. The (almost) upbeat 'Flight of the Hermaphrodite', and the claustrophobic oppression of 'Needle Park' both benefit from the contributions of renowned experimental trumpeter Jon Hassell. "Another very, very important album, a big step forward. It's so epic. It ranges from (dare I say) 'isolationist' ambient pieces to oblique, surrealist, instrumental hip-hop pieces. A blueprint for where we are going with Techno Animal now; we discovered the beauty of the beat a bit more". Re-Entry sees the organic eliminated, when guitars, harps, vocals, violas, saxophones or live basses appear, they are processed, treated, mutated and twisted until all vestiges of humanity are removed. Nightmarish and otherworldly, but utterly compelling.
FINAL - TWO - (Sentrax / Rawkus, 1996)
Describing beatless or 'isolationist' ambient is a difficult task. The term 'isolationist' was coined by sometime music theorist Martin when writing liner notes for the important Ambient 4: Isolationism compilation. Mostly minimalist, and often containing just pure 'noise', the genre lends itself to polysemic personal interpretations by the listener. It is solitary music solely for the head. Two is one of the genre's gentler creations, and reveals Broadrick's use of simple reflective beauty. Containing an equal number of heavenly melodic and structured 'noise' pieces, Two could be seen as typifying Broadrick's 'light side', contrasting with Godflesh's 'darkness'. Created mostly from guitar manipulations, Broadrick is not adverse to including 'anything' in Final's semi-music concrete creations; be it piano, violin, or warped samples of 'blowing into bottles'. The piano, bass and guitar simplicity of track four (there are no proper song titles) is Broadrick's homage to composer Eric Satie. "I love that track," he concurs. The melodious drones of track three and the layered, largely unaffected guitar of the closing track are also works of astounding beauty. "It's a pretty melancholic album, deep mood music". Oddly released through a hip-hop label, Green also contributes to many of the pieces.
GODFLESH - SONGS OF LOVE AND HATE - (Earache, 1996)
Taking its name from the Leonard Cohen album, the lyrically insightful Songs of Love and Hate is the most cohesive Godflesh release since Streetcleaner. The incorporation of hip-hop beats hinted at in Pure is pushed further, and Godflesh's ever-present groove truly 'swings'. Naturally, the guitars are as loud, distorted and in-your-face as ever. Now-Primus drummer Brian Mantia joined Broadrick and Green for Songs Of Love And Hate, the interplay between live and programmed drums adding an extra dimension to the release. Highlights include 'Gift From Heaven' creating a spooky opening from sampled harmonic layers of Brian Wilson's voice, the tender melodicism of 'Frail', and the stunning hip-hop meets psychedelic guitar sway of 'Almost Heaven'. Strangely, not one of Broadrick's favourite releases. "An album I find it hard to talk about at the moment, I think Us and Them shits all over Songs Of Love And Hate". Songs Of Love And Hate, like Us and Them, is much more 'song' based than past Godflesh releases. "I very much see Godflesh as writing songs, even if it might not appear like it. They are set song formulas, they do have verses and choruses". More accessible and sonically direct than past releases, Broadrick does concede that this is an album devoid of weak tracks.
ICE - BAD BLOOD - (Morpheus/Reprise/Warner, 1998)
The second Ice album is totally stylistically, if not sonically, removed from the first. Bad Blood, is, in essence, a hip-hop record. Containing a plethora of guest musicians and rappers, a similar method is employed as Under the Skin. Intricate and massive-sounding, Bad Blood arguably possesses one of the most incredibly involved, soupy and oppressive productions ever. 'Natural' instruments abound (bass, guitar, live percussion, saxophones); though as is common for recent Broadrick / Martin projects, these have been sampled and treated to the point of near-unrecognisability. A reaction to the now-highly conservative nature of the genre, Bad Blood is "a step forward in mutating modern-day hip-hop. It's become so safe, marginalised. We're tying to invoke this mad-hip-hop stuff again; flowing, fucked up, layered, twisted, mutated, and everything that commercial hip-hop isn't," Broadrick explains. It is worth noting that Bad Blood is highly revolutionary, not reactionary, in nature. A phenomenally powerful, consistent release, Broadrick's guitar cascades like black sheets of falling rain over a desolate backdrop. The vitriolic dark-hop formlessness of 'When Two Worlds Collide' would perfectly soundtrack the earth's dying screams. Bestial and essential.
YOUPHO - ANTIBODY and ANXIETY - (12" on Hardleaders and Second Movement, 1998)
Technically two separate releases, but stylistically and temporally adjacent enough to enable joint discussion. The vinyl-only cuts are consummate examples of late-nineties drum and bass, and strike a perfect balance between mind and body. "That's one of the reasons I respect [the genre] so much, it works on the dancefloor and it works at home, but you have to get the production just right. These days I'd rather see a DJ than a rock band. It's so much more exciting, it's got the energy I'm looking for in music which has been missing". Broadrick is joined by jungle DJ Oliver Waters on the marginally superior Anxiety 12", but both releases are debatably of equal or superior quality to the recent output of PCM, Dom and Roland, or Ed Rush and Optical. Intelligent, spooky, atmospheric, driving, ferocious and eminently danceable. "Years and years ago, I'd get a real thrill out of hearing a guitar riff played by Discharge, or Slayer, or whoever. Now I get a thrill out of hearing a really fucking hard drum and bass bassline. Those are the riffs for me".
The whole P.O.G.O family wishes to thank Sean 'Tintin' Long.
Avalanche, official site for all Justin Broadrick projects.
Godflesh.com, very useful and complete Godflesh and related projects site .