An interview the the Belgian magazine Dark Entries was done leading up to this coming Saturday’s show at AntiFabrik for Obscuur Wavegeteef in Antwerp, BE. The inteview was translated into Dutch for the local readers but you can read the original English translation below.
1. Can you introduce Soft Riot to the Belgian public?
Certainly can do! I’ll use the short description I’ve been using that’s passed around to promoters, press etc. I find it hard to describe or just end up rambling sometimes so here’s a concise and short overview:
“Soft Riot is JJD, a former Vancouverite based out of London, uses a lot of antiquated equipment and lighting performing sinister, minimalist electronic “pop” songs equally influenced from dystopian film, soundtracks, psychedelia and various types of “wave” music. “No Longer Stranger” re-release out on vinyl/digital on Volar Records January 2013. The new album “Fiction Prediction” is out on LP/CD/Cassette/Digital on Other Voices/Volar Records in June 2013.”
2. Why did you chose the name Soft Riot for your band?
It wasn’t originally called Soft Riot and had another name before I started this project in a somewhat different form in early 2006. The sound then was more cinematic or “soundtrack” sounding.
The project was originally called JJ Wax, which was a name made out of my first two initials “Jack Joseph” and “Wax” coming from the name of my graphic design company at the time called The Wax Museum.
The name Soft Riot was originally the name of a song from that early form of the JJ Wax project. I wanted to get away from using a name that sounded like a solo project name and something a bit more ambiguous. The song “Soft Riot” was sort of a commentary on the gentrification of cities and the clamping down on the poor and middle class, pointing to a larger, expanding problem of the widening gap between classes, especially in this hyper-accelerated Neo-Liberal western world we currently are in. The “soft riot” refers to what I observe as this daily, universal anger and disgust that a large portion of people feel opposing this oppression — whether it’s expressed online on social networks, social commentary in music and books, the choices we make as consumers/citizens on a daily basis. Sort of a “riot” within I guess — as opposed to a hard riot of, you know, throwing a brick through a window a Top Shop or something.
3. Your origin is in Canada isn’t it? Why did you move to London? Is there a new wave/gothic scene or a so called ‘black scene’ in Canada with parties, concerts, festivals….? Can you tell something about it? In what cities is it concentrated?
Yes, I’m originally from Vancouver, British Columbia (the most westernmost province in Canada) and I moved to London in late 2007. At that point I had been living in that part of the world all my life and Vancouver since 1997. I was in numerous bands at that period of time and there wasn’t really the best audience for the type of music I was doing: post-punk, cold wave, industrial, synth pop although in later years that picked up a bit.
Vancouver is somewhat small, isolated from most other major cities worth playing shows in and also quite expensive! I was also in a rut as I was approaching the age of 30 and needed to shake up my life in some way to experience things. My ancestral family is from England so I sorted out my papers and moved over. The first year or so was a bit of a shock and a bit rough but now I feel integrated and have met a lot of good people on the way.
Since leaving Vancouver there’s a younger generation of dark, post-punk artists like Animal Bodies, Sally Dige, Petroleum By-Product, Zoo/// and many more that have emerged so it would appear there’s a growing interest in what you refer to as a “black scene”.
4. How would you describe the music made by Soft Riot?
It’s shifted a bit over the last couple of years. Coming from years playing in high energy punk, post-punk and synth-punk bands I originally wanted to explore more subversive ambient or less aggressive sounding music. I am really into film composers or composers that have had work in films like Lalo Schifrin, György Ligeti, Wendy Carlos Williams and stuff like that. I also like a lot of electro-acoustic sounding electronic music which inspires a lot of the sound design of what I do. Perhaps the roster of a label like Kranky Records (Labradford, Stars Of The Lid) or newer stuff like Tim Hecker could be used as one point of reference.
Recently I’d say the sound brings back a lot of experimental synth pop and minimal synthesizer music into the mix as I wanted a sound that was a bit more upbeat and engaging sound that could be played live. Overall the music I’d say has a slightly psychedelic, science-fiction inspired tone.
5. Who are your musical heroes? What music inspires you?
Most of my musical heroes are people that I know or people that sort of operate in the same, general musical peer group as me over the years. In Vancouver, where I’m from, there’s a lot of friends and fellow musicians on the scene that were putting out inspiring and great music or art over the years and I got to know some of them quick well and get a bit more of an inside to how they think and go out doing things. I was really into record labels like GSL and Gravity (both American) and got the chance to communicate with people involved in bands on some of those labels, or with the people running the labels directly. Someone like Sonny Kay, for example, who used to run GSL and play in various bands I was into was a person who I got to talk to over the years and he’s a pretty stand up person and really good visual artist as well. My last communication with Sonny was he asking me to buy him a rare 7” by Will Sergeant from Echo & The Bunnymen that wasn’t available in the US.
As for big “rock stars”, I don’t really idolize anyone per se as people have traditionally idolized musicians. There’s many musicians I like but in the end they’ll all human like everyone else; subject to assets and faults.
I listen to a lot of different music, including the post-hardcore I listened to in my youth (and more recent stuff) up to what’s going on with current techno or synthesizer artists. I listen to a lot of older, 60s-70s psychedelic and prog as well. At night I tend to listen to a lot of less rhythmic or pop sounding music and I guess this would cover modern composers like Henrik Gorecki and Michael Nyman to drone, electro-acoustic — even stuff like the first Julee Cruise or early Cocteau Twins records…
6. Can you discuss Soft Riots discography of past releases?
The first release was actually years ago as a demo I just gave to friends. I think there was only 10-15 copies made in a CD-R format. When I moved to England the whole project was put on hold for a while as I played in other bands but eventually the first official release as the original version “No Longer Stranger”, which came out on a Canadian netlabel called Panospria run by a friend of mine. I wasn’t really expecting to do anything serious with it but over the months after it was released a lot of people were really enjoying the release so I decided to ramp it up and start doing it live and doing more recordings.
In early 2012 I put out the Another Drone In Your Head EP on the US dark electronic label Tundra Dubs. That release is three original tracks plus a variety of remixes. I then put out a self-released cassette called Hyperbolic Masses that contained tracks from that Tundra Dubs EP as well as a number of tracks that would make up Fiction Prediction. That cassette is now sold out.
Coming up to Fiction Prediction the first record, No Longer Stranger, got re-released on vinyl this year on Volar Records and I added two extra tracks to it: they were both really old tracks from the original demo that I re-recorded.
7. Soft Riot’s released their first album “Fiction Prediction” in June . Can you discuss the album and the songs on it?
Yes, that one is the first “proper” album! I recorded it in sessions from the summer of 2011 until early this year. Being a full time graphic designer as well as all the activities that living a modern life and being in a modern band require sometimes it was hard to get in focus to write it but when I did I’d feel completely immersed in writing it and for something that is completely produced by myself I’m pretty proud of the record.
I think for me it’s the most “organic” songwriting and sound design I’ve done. I wasn’t really thinking of any particular era or sound to go for. I mean, I like some production that’s associated with the eighties, like wet and processed drums and heavy synthesizer use but I also like older, warm psychedelic sounds and giving it a more modern post-wave sort of slant I guess. For some people that have heard it it can easily sound like a synth-pop record like Gary Numan or Cabaret Voltaire (which I don’t entirely see) but there’s a lot of sound design behind the whole thing.
The songs all tie into a master concept of “fiction prediction” — mainly referring to how a lot of literature of the last 100 years of so in the science fiction or speculative fiction genres have foretold a lot of things we’re currently dealing in this year of 2013 and beyond, 1984 being the most referenced and obvious example.
8. Soft Riot contributes to the compilation “And You Will Find Them In The Basement” released this spring. Can you tell a little bit about this compilation and about the song you contributed on it?
There’s a small foreword I wrote for the insert for the vinyl version of this compilation that outlines the origins of how it came about. Basically it covers how many of the artists on the compilation were connected through friendship by frequenting a lot of the same nights, like Brave Exhibitions (London), Future Obscura, Endurance, Reeperbahn and so on. From there we were all in some way or another booking shows with each other’s bands. This was kind of how the idea for the compilation came about. It was to document a small scene that was happening and to create a nice package of music that people could listen to a tangible thing could listen to to hear what was going on. Some of the artists, like Lebanon Hanover, weren’t from London and only played there once or twice but Larissa and William from that band knew the majority for us as friends and they seemed a good fit, especially as they were living in the UK at the time the whole thing was coming together.
So we had all the bands to contribute music but no-one really had the finances or the time to dedicate to self-releasing the thing as a proper vinyl record and getting it out there. The band A Terrible Splendour, also on the compilation, were putting out a record on Desire (France) so MM Lyle from that band proposed the release to Desire and they were interested immediately.
My track on that compilation is called “Cinema Eyes”, also on the album Fiction Prediction. It was the song that had the most phases of production when I was writing it and it morphed into what it was by layering ideas from different demos together into that sound that gives it some of the weird features that it has.
9. On your facebook you give this link in your list of Soft Riot websites: http://vhemt.org/ : The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Can you explain this movement a little bit? Why do you support them?
Well! On the surface I put it there as a bit of a joke, a product of my slightly misanthropic sense of humour. It is a more extreme solution proposed for what I see as likely the major problem of the 21st Century, and that is the overpopulation of the human race. I’m really not in the whole right-wing angle of viewpoints based on eugenics as that’s pretty totalitarian by principle but there’s way more people on this planet that have been here ever and it’s wreaking havoc on the environment and on each other. I mean, in the early 1800s I think there was only 1 billion people on earth, and by the 1950s around 3 billion. Now we’re 7 billion and you can kind of see where that’s going. Despite education on recycling and cutting down emissions, etc., it isn’t really going to help when there’s, say, an extra few more billion people sprawling things outward.
And humans seem so intent on ridding the wild animals and vermin that enter into our modern cityscapes but I think it would likely be the other way around.
My whole angle is that I’m just never going to have children. There’s already enough children out there who need to be raised properly and to have opportunities to excel. I can say that I feel a lot of empathy for the crazy world a lot of these kids are going to have to participate in when they reach adulthood.
As for VHEMT, it was started in the late 80s or early 90s by an American scientist who saw the dangers to the planet’s environment by overpopulation. It began in the form of a newsletter.
It’s a pretty peaceful concept in a way — just continue living a rich life without needing to procreate and decrease the population. Theirs is more of an extreme view of just dying out completely which is, well, extreme but sometimes when I observe some of the whacko people out there in the world these days it doesn’t seem like a half-bad idea!
I don’t necessarily support the VHEMT per se, but I can agree with a lot of the reasoning as to why that organization came to be in the first place.
I do like their tagline though: “Thank you for not breeding!”
10. What can we expect from the performance in Antwerp, Belgium?
Ok, moving to a more lighter topic! What should people expect? They’ll see one person they might mistake for being American attempt to play four synthesizers at any given time and be mesmerized by the rhythmic trance of bright, flashing lights. Plus it’s likely a lot more fun than watching the financial forecasts on their local TV news.
11. Why should our readers come to see Soft Riot playing live in The Antifa-brick?
Refer to the answer on question 10!
12. Do you have a last message?
This upcoming show at Obscuur Wavegeteef is my first time performing in Belgium so I can say without a doubt that I am really looking forward to it!