One of the most impressive new industrial bands to emerge in the UK in recent memory, man(i)kin wasted no time and signed a deal with Nightbreed records, releasing their debut album sem(i)nal last year. An intriguing blend of industrial dance, techno, EBM and even electronic pop, this first release from the band was a very convincing first shot and promises a great deal more for the future.
A two-piece in the studio (Seth and Martin), their impressive live performances are enhanced dramatically by drummers Ian and Mark (who also acts as the band's manager). After touring across England and Scotland throughout 1999 and early 2000, the band made their first continental live appearance at the annual Wave-Gotik-Treffen festival, Leipzig, Germany in June. A festival that quickly become notorious for its abysmal organisation and virtual collapse soon after it started, forcing many big name bands to abandon their sets. With a loyal following already supporting them in the UK and with interest increasing overseas on the back of successful sales of sem(i)nal, it seems like only a matter of time before man(i)kin will be making a much larger impact on the international scene. In their first major interview, vocalist Seth, programmer Martin and live percussionist Mark exchanged data with Rob Dyer.
Was there a determined 'let's start a band attitude or did you 'drift' into writing/recording.
[seth] I introduced myself to Martin in a club one night saying "I hear you do some music", to which he replied, typically, "Sort of..." and it started from there. So I guess the answer is yes, we did deliberately start with the intention of starting a band. We didn't even know each other before we started working together.
How did you hook up with Nightbreed, why go with what is primarily a gothic label?
[seth] We sent the demo tape off to several labels. Most of them said basically "Good stuff, but we won't risk it this time. Come back when you have proved that you can sell." Nightbreed said "This is the best demo we've ever received." They were prepared to take this risk and you have to respect that, even if they were a predominately Goth label at the time. Besides which I really don't see that a Goth identity is a problem. All of us listen to stuff that would be called Goth. I have always believed that Goth was more of a perspective than a musical genre, and man(i)kin certainly has a strong Goth sentiment.
[mark] To be honest it was a realistic approach to getting onto the ladder. NB have been moving away from the traditional goth angle for a number of years so it didn't seem totally outrageous to go there. There was also the fact that putting our first CD out on NB meant that at least we would get some distribution in Europe and no European label is going to be willing to pick up a debut CD by an unknown UK band. And of course we know the NB crew and have a lot of time for the work they do in trying to bring new alternative music into the UK scene.
How do you approach writing your songs? Do you prep them in advance or do you just get together and see what comes out?
[martin] It's most common that the music and lyrics start out as seperate ideas, and then get matched up. We're consciously trying to make this happen as early as possible so that the songs form around the vocal. We have never really sat and written together from scratch, ideas have the habit of appearing at the strangest times and we've always had plenty to work with before we get together.
How is the song creation and recording split between the members?
[mark] At the moment this is definitely the realm of Martin and Seth. I like to hear tracks and make the odd suggestion on their recording but to be honest I am much more interested in the mixing of tracks - I much prefer the art of balancing all the elements that have been recorded and creating a whole that really works.
[martin] In general Seth does the lyrics and I do the music, and on sem(i)nal that holds almost completely. Things are blurring a little more now, there's a demo song where I've written the lyrics and recorded vocals, but also some rough demos where Seth has recorded vocals and taken the song off in his own direction. As for the programming and production side, that's me, all the gear is here so it has to be.
What problems (if any) are there with the band members living at either end of England?
[seth] There are incredible problems. Each track that we work on, we are working more closely as one entity and so the more the distance becomes an issue. The finer points of a track, the details of exactly which sound to use and how to balance the levels of each element of a track just cannot be tackled unless we are both in the same room. Plus there is always the cost of travel, which adds up after rehearsals, vocal and writing sessions and the time it takes.
Seth, your live performances can appear pretty intense sometimes. Are you totally wrapped up in the music or is some of it a performance/stage persona?
[seth] Obviously I am aware that I am on display and that the audience react, to a certain degree, to the energy that I am transmitting. I do make a conscious effort to give a good visual performance. However, I'm not naturally good at "faking it" and my genuine mood definitely has a huge effect on the degree of energy and animism I have on stage. At the end of the day, I wish I could fake it for the sake of the crowd, but if I face a static audience I find it hard to be enthusiastic. It just doesn't feel like they are hearing what I'm saying which is very important to me. In fact, you could say it's the whole point.
Which songs are you most happy with on sem(i)nal and why?
[seth] Liberation because it's beautiful and totally fits what I felt when I wrote the lyrics. One Last Lovesong because I think it's the best music Martin wrote out of the tracks on sem(i)nal and someof the best words I have ever written. It's a deeply meaningful song for me.
[martin] Pilgrim Walking. It was the last song recorded and I'm still pleased with the interplay of the synths. I have the normal problem with last years work, knowing that we could do it better now. I'm happier listening to the remixes I've done over the last few months such as the faster Shortrun mix of Pilgrim Walking which is on Nightbreed's New Alternatives 5 compilation.
I get a bit sick of people moaning about the lack of a 'scene' in the UK. What are your views on this?
[seth] Well I agree with you. "Punters" who moan about the scene yet always request the same tracks from 1980 or whatever and never go to see new bands really piss me off. There are promoters risking serious money for the sake of the scene, bringing new acts to the audience and bands from Europe that aren't well known here in the UK yet many people only seem to be interested in stuff that is well-known and accepted. This just goes totally against the spirit of of the music and scene as I see it.
[mark] There is a scene but it is not really very strong at the moment. I guess the main problem is that it is very difficult to get new blood into the bands and clubs that are out there. And of course it is often difficult to get the old blood to listen to the new stuff that is happening. It is such an underground movement with so little exposure in the press, TV or radio its not really surprising that it is not really a huge scene.
Tell us about the Leipzig festival. It's quickly become notorious for its dreadful organisation.
[mark] Well it has never been a very well organised festival - but it had become pretty huge. can you imagine 25,000 kids showing up for an alternative festival in the UK!! It did tend to have a pretty cool atmosphere and of course there were shed loads of great bands playing - it was just always a bit of a nightmare to work there. It was a real shame how it all went wrong this year - I guess it was just one of those things. But it was kind of cool how a lot of people still made the effort to keep things going for at least one more day.
[martin] Luckily we did our show well before things fell apart. Seth and I found out about the problems early on sunday so we didn't end up waiting outside a venue getting frustrated. In the end it meant we had a more relaxed time without worrying about missing too many bands.
Seth, you were trained as a choir vocalist. Has that helped or hindered your current vocal style?
[seth] Both. It has helped because of the techniques and understanding of singing that I gained from it. It was also a hindrance at first because choral singing is highly stylised. Usually vocal phrases are of the same length in a choral or barbershop piece, so the breathing pattern is typically to sing an entire phrase on one breath, then breath in ready for the next phrase. That's fine for a regular phrasing structure because you have time to recover enough to sustain a full phrase. Singing for man(i)kin is quite different though. For starters, the song is not already all figured out in advance - we have to do that, so at first there's no structure for me to conform to. Choral singing basically just requires copying. Then there's the added complication of more variable phrasing which requires me to snatch air at any opportunity in order to sustain pressure for varying lengths of time. For the first year or so we were working together we didn't realise that I was trying to sing in a regular phrasing pattern which meant that sometimes I simply didn't have the breath when I needed it. Cracking this made a world of difference to my vocals, particularly live when it's crucial to have a strong voice.
Seth, what gives rise to inspiration for your lyric writing?
[seth] It's really a very unconscious process for me. Usually a few lines will just come up in my head and I'll write them down. This gives me a theme which I'll then try to fleshout. Sometimes that's easy and the words flow. Sometimes nothing happens. I have pages and pages of these fragments, some of which I can go back to later to finish off or incorporate into a song based on another fragment. Whatever the initial theme, invariably I find deeper meanings months, or even years, later. I believe that my writing is a kind of self-analysis: my unconscious externalises something my ego needs to know so it can be digested and analysed as a contained, external object. When I do come to really understand a song I can usually see in retrospect what event triggered it. I gave up trying to identify the inspiration for songs when I write them and now just wait for the understanding to come. The triggers can be very varied and sometime bare no apparent similarity to the real issue, which may in fact be something from years prior to me writing the song. Writing is basically a way in which I learn more about myself and the way I interact with the people and situations around me. Inevitably the issues are "negative" - not that I consider them detrimental to me, just stuff my mind can't assimilate at that moment because it's unacceptable to the current ego structure. Playing live presents special problems for electronic bands. You have two live drummers which helps tremendously.
Do you have to put much work into planning the live sound/approach?
[mark] I think it was always intended that man(i)kin should be a live band. I certainly felt that way after hearing the material that Seth and Martin were producing. I think that the extra live percussion and keyboards that are added in the live show really help to power the tracks along. And of course the visual element is pretty striking. I think a lot of Uk bands really neglect their live appearance which is a shame. We do think about our performance and how it looks to the audience and we will work hard in rehearsals to try to ensure that our audiences do get a good show.
There are traces of many musical styles on sem(i)nal. Which basic direction do you think new material will go in?
[martin] I think the biggest influence will be dark psytrance, the kind of stuff Atomic Records (www.atomicrecords.co.uk) are releasing. We want to produce a diverse second album and I'm sure there will be little influences from many different places.
On the man(i)kin website Martin says he thinks of the band "as my hobby, something fun to do in my time off". Does everyone in the band share this approach? What if you become so successful you could give up your day job - would you?
[martin] That comment was quite flippant, but it is important to enjoy doing the band. I don't think that being financially dependent on the band would be a good thing artistically. Although we want to get our music out to as many people as we can there isn't a pressure to make the music itself as saleable as possible.
[seth] It's too serious for me to be a hobby; man(i)kin is more of a personal mission, or passion to be clinched. As for giving up the day job... I enjoy my work and would never totally stop doing what I am doing. I may well stop doing it professionally if I had the luxury of financial freedom. I'd love to be able to dedicate as much time as needed to man(i)kin, but if I was required to do it "full-time", as it were, I think it would become soulless and therefore the opposite of what it is meant to be, so I wouldn't do that even if I could.
[mark] I guess I would have to agree with Martin's statement up to a point. It is a hobby but one I take seriously and will work hard at. It's pretty difficult to get to the point where you can live off your music - but yes I guess it would be pretty cool.
man(i)kin on DSO: Gig Reviews / Music Reviews
Official man(i)kin website: http://www.manikin.force9.co.uk