IX Tab is a transmitter of psychedelic electronica. A signposter of alternative art-histories, theorising the what-might-have-beens of the 20th century war-swept avant-garde. A conjurer of dreaming mind-states. And, perhaps most importantly, the creator of some weird and beautiful music.
Fallout Shelter Disks is a feature that asks artists for a list of the music they would take down into a bunker should the world end, along with a book and a luxury item. Any resemblances to a certain BBC Radio 4 programme are purely coincidental. Now, with the seas glowing with weird lights amid reports of a billion fish beaching themselves, let’s descend into the earth to talk about IX Tab’s end-of the-world catastrophe selections and his own music.
Coil – Love’s Secret Domain
‘I bought it on the day it was released from a Welsh dwarf, met a beautiful girl on the way home, listened to it, hated it (it was no Horse Rotorvator) , played it again, loved it, used it repeatedly for all kinds of psychic(k) experimentation and since then I reckon I have played something from it at least every other week. It’s not the coolest Coil album, not the most coherent, or the weirdest but it came upon me at a critical time and burned itself onto my consciousness so that, in quiet moments when nothing is happening, this is the music that bubbles up inside my head. IX Tab is at least in part an attempt to make another album like this one – I just keep getting it wrong.’
Jenny Hval – Apocalypse Girl
‘Other than the title, which is clearly on the button, there’s something really strange about this album and it’s kept dragging me back to it. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like it sounds different every time I listen to it, like the tone has shifted somehow so the lyrics now mean something else; the words don’t seem to stick with her intentions, they flit around like sprites. A lot of the music is fairly conventional but even here there are stark tonal shifts that make it seem like you’re hearing it from the wrong angle, somehow. It seems suffused with a strange light, as well, as if she’s not so much singing or saying as breaking out in words, like a fever or a rash.
Throbbing Gristle – DOA: The Third and Final Report
My 16 year-old self found this album impossibly fascinating. It’s flawed, occasionally pointless, wholly transgressive and funny. No one else would sing the lyric: ‘hit by a rock; spoiling my breakfast. Hit by a rock; blood and brains in my marmalade!’ A mate at school made a super long (an hour or so) version of ab/7a which still haunts me; he insisted we all got wasted and listened right the way through. That was our Vietnam.’
Shackleton – Music for the Quiet Hour / Drawbar Organ EPs
‘Shackleton seems like a gentle genius; this album is so full of stuff, just buckets of matter and language and creepy little beats that squirm under your consciousness. I’m not done with it yet; not even sure I’ve ever listened to it in quite the same way twice. It forces attention and it needs forcing. It reminds me a little of Coil but that’s doing it a disservice; Shackleton is all his own thing. I’d love him to do an IX Tab remix, he’d take my tinkering into altogether better places. His drums sound like dreams; like UK / Berlin Voodoo. I’m not even sure that this is his best album but it’s the one that keeps me wondering; I’m not at all sure who or what it’s for and I think that’s brilliant.’
Orbital – Snivilization
‘I’m a sucker for scene and setting and Orbital appeared in my timeline at the right time in the right place. The Brown Album was loved by everyone I knew, was quintessential and perfect in its way but this one saw them gleefully ripping up what had been an excellent phrasebook and starting to fuck around with everything. And it works beautifully. The thing with Orbital that I love is that they get really really close to being Jean Michel Jarre, to cheesing out, to Altern8ing…’
Spacemen 3 – Playing With Fire
‘This has dragged me into and out of any number of k-holes. I sing the quiet bits to my kid to send him to sleep. It’s resolutely benevolent music. Adult lullabies. Good medicine.’
Book: Jonathan Meades – Pompey
‘A collection of the finest ugly/ beautiful imagery that I’ve ever seen in print. The only novel I’ve read three times. That pygmy hunt. Hot Love. Meades takes the prosaic detritus of everyday life and twists it into shapes that no one else would even think of. It’s sickening and maddening and scrapes every barrel there is. It’s immaculate and utterly flawed. Even the boring bits are interesting. The language gets into your head and soils your brain. He even reminds us: please wash your hands after using this book. I might read it now.’
Luxury Item: Psilocybes
‘I’m assuming that we’ll need something to set against the music, to keep wolves from creeping in. Plus, whilst I’m a stickler for the laws of the land, I think this might be time to make them bend. Besides, I’m sure some of the music above makes no sense at all without at least some alchemical fun n frolics; it would be downright disrespectful not to.’
Ears For Eyes: Could you cope with the isolation in the fallout shelter?
IX Tab: ‘I’m not an extraordinarily social person. Isolation would be fine, I think. I’d miss my loved ones but I think you’d have to reinvent yourself whilst down there. I applied to be a Forest Fire Watch officer in Canada when I was a student and you’d have to spend months on your own, just watching for the outbreak of fires from a very isolated cabin, high in the hills. Of course, you were allowed more than one book! In the end, I met a girl and didn’t end up going but I sort of regret it because it would have been a great test. Of course, that girl set me on a different trajectory and I’m very grateful for that too…’
EFE: Would you remain creative?
IX Tab: ‘Of course. I’d write my way out of the isolation. That’s what writings for, I think… To engage with the outer world via the inner. Especially novels. I’d have to write some, or maybe get around to finish the dozen or so that I have kicking around, half-arsed and half-formed. Same for music; I could just think some music into existence. Most of the music I do as IX Tab are tunes (okay, a necessarily vague term) and songs (Nick Ekoplekz Edwards laughed at me when I suggested my stuff was songs) and ideas that have been thought into existence on the walk to work, on the bus, in the middle of the night when my littlest munkin has woken us up. They are thought out more or less fully formed, quite quickly, right down to the samples etc but then I have to try to recreate in real sound and… I’m just not that great a musician. Mostly, it takes ages for me to work out even a super simple progression. Chords? Wellmaybe…’
EFE: The bunker is a great venue for psychic(k) explorations, just you and your thoughts; would you try to escape the circumstances, through your Spacemen 3 pick or the psilocybes?
IX Tab: ‘Well, I tend not to be interested in drugs that escape the world, I’ve always been more interested in making it more colourful, in exploring it, in seeing how far it can be twisted. I’m fundamentally an optimist so escape from anything seems like heading in the wrong direction; how about embracing everything, even isolation?
That said, psilocybes are seen as a fundamentally social drug so I just figured it’d be interesting to see how they work in isolation. Most of my choices would work well with the psilocybes, would be enhanced by them but those little triptamines can also work against music, fight with it; sometimes the music wins (and that’s the dominant emotional field in the room) and sometimes the entheogens win, and they take over. I figured this kind of battle could develop into some kind of soap opera, that I could pay attention to, that would have twists and turns.’
EFE: Could you create a new world down there like the protagonist in J.G.Ballard‘s The Enormous Space?
IX-Tab: ‘Love that story. And that one is terrifying. I love Ballard’s architectural horror stories, the way he finds terror in corners rather than around them. Quite a lot of his stories seem based on the idea of the endless, of the prosaic stretching and becoming intolerable. They did that one on TV didn’t they? I can remember Anthony Sher freaking out. And there’s a story by Stephen King, The Jaunt, that I read when I was a kid. It was about travelling long distances in suspended animation, and one kid or someone staying awake the whole time – the ending is utterly horrific and has stayed with me since I was 14 or whatever: “Longer than you think, Dad!”
So, what was the question? Yes, I think you’d have to create a world. You can’t live without one, not in any sense. There’d have to be some sense of completeness, of totality, just so didn’t continually feel that you were alone, that there was something else you weren’t experiencing, something missing. It’d have to be a world with new rules, new routines, even if that was just so you could have fun slipping in and out of pattern. If you didn’t manage to invent a new world you’d go insane anyway, thinking about the old one.’
EFE: Are there any themes running through your albums? It seems to me, they’re partly about how reality isn’t all it seems. I feel like the narrator in I M Wh U Mk Ov M, beings dancing out of bushes as I listen.
IX Tab: ‘You’re right…. I’m utterly unsure about reality. It doesn’t seem feasible. I teach Philosophy and Psychology and this just makes things worse. I’m beginning to doubt the world. As Coil said, it seemed to have ended a long time ago. I think maybe there was a nuclear holocaust after all, and this is the result… the recent return of Twin Peaks seems like a documentary…’
The three albums form a very loose trilogy, but they each have their own individual themes.
Spindle is very much about a specific place, just a few square miles from where I was brought up, in Yeovil, Every track on there has ultra-specific and very personal samples and field recordings from various sources; we used to record ourselves all the time and many of the samples are just dumb teenagers dicking around… dead friends, lost friends, old friends… it’s very nostalgic and very rural, and it was amazing to me that people paid attention to that album at all because all the references are so personal, some of them relatable to perhaps a handful of people, others just to me… and often they came from very prosaic sources. It was available in subtly different Male and Female versions, an idea stolen from Milorad Pavić’s Dictionary of The Khazars, which I guess was the one external influence I let into that album…
ROC broadened the scope somewhat… it was supposed to be an attempt at uchronia…. A sort of imagined world that might have been if there’d been no Great War and the turn-of-the-century artists had continued unchallenged,… the war(s) seemed to reset a psychic clock and a lot of interesting developments fell away… I was trying to imagine where we’d be if those wars hadn’t blown everything apart… ROC is more European, I guess… stuffed with Baudelaire and Wittgenstein and the early Surrealists… it was an attempt at psychic decadence… Huysmans via a gauze / haze of psilocybin-dipping…
The World Is Not Where We Are is a smoother, slower transition… an album for falling asleep to… or, rather, the transition album because the next one is going to be explicitly for falling asleep to… I’ve done a fair bit of research on sleep and dreams, academically and otherwise, I did official (and unofficial) research on sleep deprivation at University…and the stuff I’m doing now is very much based around that. TWINWWA is also much more female in the way that ROC was very male… there are actual female voices and collaborators (the inimitable Joan Pope, for example, is on a few tracks) but it’s also an attempt to tap into a different, less dissonant current… Spindle was Male and Female, ROC male, TWINWWA female… it’s an easier listen, I think, despite all the sex-magick and incantations… ROC could be quite harsh, ROC was music for psychedelic duelling… but, at the same time, TWINWWA was also heavily under the influence of Kant, who mines a very masculine philosophy, I always thought…’
EFE: Your albums are full of information. The booklets revealing the layers of influence and thought beneath each track, the album cover to The World is Not Where We Are an alternative Sergeant Peppers menagerie. How do you shepherd all this? Your notebooks are surely bursting.
IX-Tab: ‘They are indeed. A lot of the music starts out visually, in literal scrapbooks… I hoard information and images and like making links between them… Almost nothing is improvised, with the exception of my work in the trio REEL (Rapid Eye Electronics Ltd), who played at Supernormal in the Summer, where everything is improvised… it’s all carefully mapped out in my head… the title.. the placement of the samples…. The melodies, such as they are… which I then try and replicate.. mostly unsuccessfully, which is why I spend so long on each album… there’s a lot of influences to get in there…. That’s the reason I chose to do the cover of TWINWWA like that… I felt there were a number of influences during the making of that album that needed to be out there, like it’d be dishonest not to admit to them… but, in general, I like the influences to be known… I know people like the music to speak for itself etc etc and that’s fine but I like giving some guidance… it’s supposed to be listened to in a certain way, even if people choose not to. The extensive sleevenotes and diagrams and pictures are as much a part of the album as the music…’
EFE: You say Spacemen 3 made adult lullabies. Your music on The World is Not Where We Are sounds like it’s a step beyond that, sounds for the already asleep. Dream modifiers. There seems to be much more drift on this one. Still very weird, but peacefully so. Was it a conscious intention to make an album with less confusion, less twitchiness? Everything flows together like a sleep cycle.
IX-Tab: ‘Yes yes yes. It’s not quite that, but the next one will be. It’ll be a tape, I think… two long tracks only. Both pacifiers and dream modifiers, perhaps under the original (from the 90s) name: (Dada) IX Tab, which was actually me and another guy… I should ask him to join again, he works in sound engineering… he’s very talented… yes, Spacemen 3, or the slower, quieter bits are perfect adult lullabies… as are the Cocteau Twins… Blue Bell Knoll has pulled me from a number of psychic holes… but yes, I wanted an album with less confusion, less twitchiness… definitely… it’s an album that flows rather than hurls itself at you… it’s a pleasanter trip, less spiky… more tidal in it’s progressions where I guess the others are more manifestly inhabited by machine-elves, hurling you through membranes, every now and then…’
EFE: If IX Tab is partly a mission to create Love’s Secret Domain in your own language, are you getting there? What makes Coil so special? So other?
IX Tab: ‘I’m a long way off lol. I’m pleased that people have mentioned Coil and Nurse With Wound when they’ve reviewed IX Tab but.. yeah…. Those guys are miles away from what I’m doing… I wouldn’t even pretend to myself that I’m in that league…
I mentioned somewhere that I only started IX Tab after Coil ceased because I needed to fill a void in my musical life; Coil got to me at a very early age, burned into my skull at 16 and then never left… I listened to a lot of industrial, experimental, noisy music at the time but they seemed to transcend all of that… they seemed to have a sense of glee, which appealed to me… they were mad sprites pulling at your neural cords… they seemed to understand psychedelics in a way no one else did… and they coincided with so many pivotal moments in my life: people, places, mad experiences… I could never shake them… and they have a sound that lots of people (including me!) have sort of tried to copy but have never succeeded… it’s a special kind of humchatter that seems to not come from this world, exactly… it’s Balance, I think… Sleazy obviously was the musical genius, the technician, but Balance was the heart and soul and blood; it was his mind being laid out in sound, I think… he infected even the tracks he didn’t play on… I’m a total fanboy and have probably bored more people about Coil than I care to admit but… they seem more important than ever, I really miss them… I was supposed to be interviewing them the week Geoff died… we’d been emailing back and forth questions and I was going to their house to meet them for a feature for the blog I used to run An Idiot’s Guide To Dreaming (who also had Ekoplekz and Farmer Glitch and Kek-W and Kemper Norton writing on there… another story )…. They were so gracious… so lovely, I think I mostly chatted to Geoff and he was very friendly, eager to talk about everything… and loved that they had fans… not at all ‘dark’… I met Stephen Thrower briefly at Supernormal and he was lovely too… such lovely boys… Unicazurn were immense at Supernormal, by the way…’
EFE: The author of Pond, Claire-Louise Bennett, has said that her stories try to escape ‘anthropocentric parochialism‘. Reaching out to the world around us. Trying to touch the things in themselves. Is your music similarly searching? The voices in The Ministry of Ontological Insecurity, your collaboration with Hoofus, don’t believe in themselves. Is this a first step to believing in things extra to ourselves?
IX-Tab: ‘The ding an sich concept was obviously an influence on TWINWWA – and I loved the novel The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts, which sort of makes Kant into a sci-fi book… I liked the idea of a Ministry to deal with everyone’s anxiety about their self, their being… why should anyone believe in themselves, when we know that we’re all just sex robots programmed through billions of years of evolution? And yet… no one feels quite like that, not even the greatest philosophical proponents of Materialism in Mind… Daniel Dennett or the Churchlands… we know we’re not the same physical body as we once were.. those cells have died.. but we still feel connected to our past selves… it seems continuous… and there seems to something in that… I’m not sure if I believe in souls per se but… there’s so much about consciousness we just don’t know… it keeps hanging on, despite all attempts to explain it away as illusion or epiphenomena or whatever… those voices in that track, I wanted them to express of world of anxiety about the nature of being… and people have responded strongly to that track, I’ve had a fair amount of correspondence about it; it’s touched a nerve.’
EFE: You believe that oscillation is a good system for learning: between old and new, science and nature. Is this a key to your music making? The flicking between the purely electronic and the human voice. Bird song and alien machine noises.
IX Tab: ‘It’s a tragedy that the old and the new are wrenched apart. That seems unnecessary; they can co-exist, they have to. And you’re completely right…. A lot of my music is an attempt to recombine… electronics flicking to birdsong flicking to the voice… there’s tracks where the electronics are actually manipulated voice and others where the voices are just electronics… or the synth pads are just amplified humming… there’s drums made out of woodblocks mixed in with electronic drums and bits of metal… it’s unsophisticated… hardly Xenakis or Parmegiani… but it’s heartfelt; it seems important to mix these old and new sounds…. Which is why I like mixing up the fin de siècle poets with Elizabethans and modernists with rationalists and on and on… the world needs more mixing, more melting pots… I like the idea of a kind of new Sacredness, a kind of disavowal of postmodernism and a return to real belief, in whatever form that it takes… a return to the Platonic source, not to Christianity or whatever as it became… but a sense that Beauty and Justice and Ethics are ontological entities, real things to be found out there in the Universe… I sort of believe in the world of The Forms.’
EFE: If you emerged from the shelter after a number of years to find a band of cultists obsessed with your music awaiting you and your leadership, what society would you build with them?
IX Tab: ‘People would be encouraged to be open about their uncertainties regarding their self, their situation; seems to me a lot of the troubles of the world are because people aren’t really sure of themselves and those insecurities leak through into blind obedience, conformity, easy choices, pack behaviour. People are scared, but mostly of themselves and that leads to all the fucked ways of thinking: racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia etc etc. I think a society where people could mess with their identities a little, play with their own minds and get encouragement for doing so, would be a good start. No one can be certain about how to live or how to be – we should be utterly suspicious of the verb ‘to be’ – so I think a general understanding of misunderstanding would be a good start.
I’d be wary of being a cult leader since that never seems to work well, even for those (especially for those) who seem to have an originally benevolent motive. I think the leadership would have to be circulated around the group, picked at random. It might mean forcing a few people into leadership roles they don’t want but I think it’d be interesting to see everyone’s spins. With a few basic absolute rules. Not messing with other peoples’ consciousness being one of them…
I think the society ought to have change embedded into its system; an attempt to break down the ‘don’t like change’ thought-system which is damaging at every level. There’s a constant need for flow and change, backwards and forwards… there’s lots to be learned by oscillating between old systems and new, between nature and science. There’s things to take from all eras, and things to throw the fuck away…’