JK Flesh and Monrella
Available 18th January 2020.
Justin Broadrick (here as JK Flesh) from Jesu and Godflesh, and Mick Harris (here as Monrella) from Scorn and Lull, unleash their new techno EP baby, which oils all motors, awakens all dormant moods in distant rooms, cracks apart in an astral flash, and crumbles us to nothing. A techno EP perhaps, no-nonsense EP most definitely, a split EP either way- See Red. Ryan Walker reviews and interviews.
Techno is Punk: A techno album sure, but in name only perhaps.
LTW: Why Techno?
MH: Loved that early sound since I was sold Jeff Mills Waveform transmission 1 by Karl Regis Oconnor back in 1991. Love the baseness and machine funk.
JKB: Techno, for me, at it’s fiercest and most futuristic is pure punk. It has a relationship with hardcore punk within its singularity, and of course, is hand in hand with early industrial music. The purpose of this EP was to display a raw industrial punk attitude to techno that has become somewhat absent of late, it recalls an exciting period in music without being simply a throwback and is as much punk industrial as it is techno.
The pair initially collaborated on the 1992 debut album by Scorn, Vae Solis. This was a year after Harris left the remnants of Napalm Death after a succession of line-up alterations, which for a brief while (another debut called Scum in 1987) included Broadrick, himself soon to form the revered Godflesh, leading to his manifestation of Jesu, an equally revered musical giant in the epic, experimental, electronic art-rock world.
Each championed by John Peel (a session by N.D and Godflesh in the late 80s, one by Scorn in the early 90s), in itself an achievement surely worth at least a strand of your attention to investing at any select point on their vast, variegated timeline. Perhaps there’s something sentimentally embedded and symbolic in the notions of an album made in 2020, predicated on a long-lasting relationship that has survived eons of trauma and turbulence and walked through those trepidatious arcades of decay over two decades ago, finding them, just as restless, alive, wired, and artistically active, today.
Total Sense –
LTW: Is this the first time you have shared a release, apart from the debut Napalm record?
MH: Justin guested on guitar for the first Scorn LP, Vae Solis, which made total sense for that recording.
JKB: I played/guested on guitar on the Scorn debut, alongside Nic Bullen, we recreated the Side A Napalm Death ’Scum’ line up but took it somewhere else entirely. I’ve always been very proud to be a part of that album.
The first song comes from Monrella. Big Game crashes into action like an unstoppable tornado, triggering a twist of tough jungle drums. With every whirl something else ripped up from its roots and removed from the ground, the ravenous tornado an ongoing, cataclysmic force, devastating all it encounters.
It’s an unrelenting burst of primitive kicks and expansive, magmatic, warehouse ambiance, always sucking and spitting, inhaling and exhaling; a sublime way to decode the pit of endorphins tucked away deep within us, unleash them, and feel them thaw through the ice of the modern age with every live wire lick of the skin, judders and thumping currents throughout the blood below.
Strange, kick-ass, Shadowmen twist and contort along the spacetime continuum with hemorrhagic intimacy. Music moving as the embodiment of concrete. Tribal patterns are cast against bending walls. Incandescent in deep hell. Hambleton’s fragmented, shapeshifting street paintings inflate, ascend and uncoil into something else, evolving with each crawl, exploding into erratic splatters of dust when racing forward through space and time, spitting up and setting fire to the latitudinal pipes of the industrial night.
Regularly with these fantastic flushes of tunes are we drenched in a perennial unfurling of polymorphous textures. Big machines making strange noises, often ominous and unstoppable, unsettle the standard balance between dark and light. A heavy belt of monolithic drums explode, expand and evolve, distorting quicker than they can decompose and rot to nothing in the cracks of an asphalt cosmos.
It’s grim up north, it fucking grim everywhere
LTW: How much does the environment impact the music?
MH: Huge. For me, it makes me positive musically being in a city I personally hate and don’t recognise it anymore.
JKB: Same for me, and l left Birmingham when I was 24 after being born and raised there, but my experiences were indelible, they never leave me and weren’t positive. I am lucky to now be on the outskirts of an isolated village in North Wales, I discovered over time that I am not a city person, and would have done anything to eventually leave the city.
The second tune by Monrella (track three on the actual release), Abrasion Resistant, leaves us soaked to the bones in sweat, steaming to the extremes we could almost evaporate and disappear into thin air. Multiple, militant stabs of action lunge and lacerate the radiant cage of the hot oxygen we uncoil within. All the while steadying the sail through a feast of catalyzing convulsive seizures; the acidic drift seeping into the inner ear shining through the mind and outwards from the eyes as though hypnotized by vivid imagery, violent projections, taut and discordant.
It’s fractured, fizzy broadcast ambiance attacks the stark walls and dress the wound in something new, tumble through the heat of a neon city glow, augmented here, accelerated there, in speed and size, until the eyes blink so much the lumens behind them simply omit harsh, white crystal beams. Permanently open, transfixed to some spherical, orient of allurement, and expediated to mammoth proportions to the point you can taste the textures of the estates hosting the rave of many for millennia. Without our names, we are free to go wherever, do whatever, with whoever, we please – chainless, estranged from history, unbound to before, breathless in the headlights of an instant moment, an immanent lift.
Harris isn’t a stranger to electronics. And extreme is a subjective term, which churns from within and chews through us. EXTREME here is in accordance with the Monrella releases in the late 90s before Harris took leave from music for 6 years. Process 1 + 2 from ’96 on ZET (ZET002), or the immense charge of Mandrel from the Build Time EP in 2019 (TRM001), minimal, monotonous, tight, and dry. Whereby plugging the back of the skull into mains to the extremes the body becomes the mind in states of wonderful, lawless overdrive.
Clever references to classic techno aren’t unnoticed. Its solid grounding has been laid down for all to walk on, but it can still be broken apart. That said, the superior point when returning back to the canon of JK or Monrella; real artists with aliases, in either adopted guise, under any special, select epithet, involved with any project, is how to pick apart those signifiers and apply them to new contexts and conditions to create something wholly their own, entirely new with a focus on now.
The End Result Is Heavy.
LTW: Does having a multitude of aliases make it easy to oscillate between different projects?
MH: Yes and Yes for me it does. They all have their own concept all be it minimal but the end result heavy…
JKB: 100% for me too, I need a variety of expressive outlets, although I’ve been trying to consolidate some of these projects lately, I’d rather be a bit more concise these days.
After all, this is techno, (dark/coldwave industrial techno), so it’s tropes have been trodden well before. Yet again, this is a team of musicians who thrive on saying ‘what if?’ and ‘fuck off’, to how tightly sprung, highly strung, and neatly tucked the pigeonholes often are when coming to music. Therefore we end up with an amalgamation of different ideas and experiences. A gathering of muscular mutants in the underground resistance, not wanting to seep unto the streets, for fear of spilling their secret, resonating superfluously with the confidence of a comet tearing apart the blankets of the dank straw nebula.
‘No Nonsense’ being the salient term to use. Like either Atol and Argon by Surgeon on 1994’s Surgeon EP, burning with a different kind of voltage, Vivas’ violent Female snarling and stimulated with a new incentive and never fading away.
‘No Nonsense’ like Atkins in Cybtron, running on circulatory treadmills of sandpaper as instructed by a cantankerous Fad Gadget, throbbing with a different kind of ferocious carter-tutti ideokinesis.
‘No Nonsense’ like all four of Mills’ Confidentials cut-up by Gristle and pieced back together to attempt a successful rearrangement of the pioneering components of what, with impeccable precision and unwavering, artistic aplomb, made the formative Detroit electronic music scene such a cool to-the-point-it-could-spontaneously-combust-at-any-moment…and instinctual and primitive and potent art form. Full of vigor and vitality, dynamism and discipline, and a total future-shock bollocks in the first place.
But of course, that was Past, that has been Done.
That was Detroit and its music a permanent echo throughout the ribcage of a rotten future machine, its impression irrevocable.
We need something more, some slice of light ripping into the flaking scales of hazy, grey estates, vast traps and mundane mazes of England’s brutal arsehole, in need of a recalibration, a change of tact, something new, to hum and buzz, access and entertain, collect and encourage, flowing through the blood and wrapping around the bones – and these two deliver it.
This is Now, and this is all you Need.
Technoid Muzak as a reflection of what dilapidated lands and crumbled, half-collapsing, decadent monuments: The Pylons, The Cylos, The Petrol Stations, the Citadels, the blindingly unwinding highways, small, insignificant lights from a distance flash to create a bigger picture where iron filings gravitate towards the skyline, all of which are built, broken apart, and simply left standing. Naked and abandoned, cars on the curb, their lingering limbs still powered by an ability to inspire its techno-minded flashbulb culture bullets, which correspond and communicate, react and reciprocate, to their industrial environment, firmly facing forward, resilient through record labels (Tresor, Transmat, Axis), resistant through liquid silver sounds of bass and beat, flesh and algorithm, man and machine (Model 500/600, x-101/2/3, 3070, Inner Sanctum/City, X-ray).
A similar scene unfolds with JK and Morella. One of shaky sheds and fragile shacks and shattered glass. One of dark, debauched pubs, and sequences of neon zero air lights affixed to derelict smoking shelters and supermarket trolley bays rattling when the wind slits through the silence. Of monstrous office blocks and loathsome, retalien units. Of tainted, jaded train stations, of lonesome industrial estates, isolated cyber islands, and murderous bus terminals unfold too. Where Birmingham, Bolton, Bury, Blackpool – never lost but never fully found, metamorphose into Berlin…but not Bowie’s.
RW: Do you see similarities between yourself and Bowie?
MH: Other than he pushed searched experimented constantly.
JKB: Many, but I have better teeth. Miss him…
Stargazers and ravers, cults and colonies, unwilling to be destroyed by the morning, sleep breathing in a black, poisonous air, before erupting into rebellious life, a mad craft in the park, on the hills, galvanized by the dark. Precious memories of reverence, ghosts of golden moments that remain in the brain, are all we can reference with any sincerity despite the deviant ruthless skewers of truth and rampant, rays of debasement they, with age, come to reflect and represent.
With an infinitely fierce flashing gamut of sexy, raging light, leaving a predatory tooth mark in the outmoded reputation of the dead ages. As physical manifestations of the sharp edges, the unholy broken, the brutal future cool, the mammoth, barren sci-fi landscapes, with an underlying toughness, with an overarching, urban sleekness, as an ideo-musical monument to Toffler and Tesla, moody as hell, ammunition endlessly reloaded from the hip.
Justifying such contentions and moving on, Poundland by JK Flesh is a regurgitative state of bedazzling, electronic hypertension kindred to the forbearers of electronic punk with a minimalist hostility: Suicide’s Rocket USA and Atkin’s UFO (he said no, but I’m saying I see one) facing forwards and thrusting upwards, penetrating atmospheres and into unknown universes with every twisted shift of killer, tectonic rhythm-is-rhythm. The matrix the young, dumb night ghost rides through, taking control of the reigns fastened to this fierce techno animal.
Heaviness still intact, it shudders with every pulse, perfect and precarious, profusely palpitating and raging against the grains of space and sync to the hot drops and caustic streaks of fierce, white light. We smell the electric, evaporate into the ethers, and pass through many veiled passages, many systems of vapor when confronted by the fast, jagged tenacity and tyranny of the big-fun cleaver-beat.
Here, the dynamic impact of musical neurotransmitters responds to a different kind of galvanic, collective stimuli, one which positions its hands on either side of the skull and crushes it with merciless RPM; the exodus of the automata realised here, in the nomadic cluster of ravers, conjoined at the joints, below the same equinoxial point.
The results of which manage to mangle and mutilate the raw materials of techno, disarming those rudimentary, primal ingredients and present them as something new, something now, allowing Flesh and Monrella, to always, as always, and with such admirable confidence, conceptually walk in ways equipped to more than just forwards…but upwards, downwards, backward, if they so wish it. And being online is a great way to keep afloat, and to engage with the changes in the technologically forward-facing age.
Some Sort of Future –
LTW: you seem to be on the ball in terms of proving stuff online for people to access. What are your thoughts on things like Bandcamp?
MH: I have only just started a Bandcamp page just over a week ago. It took time to get to grips mentally and over the last few years I’ve had a few friends suggest I started one but I never took it seriously or gave it a second thought. What I like about this is I can get certain projects of mine out there digitally [would much prefer hard copies but that financially isn’t viable] and direct and huge respect to the supporters.
JKB: I’ve always embraced this technology. Avalanche recordings began as an online label with 2 self-made and self-shipped releases in 2000, back when there wasn’t much in the way of indie label online stores, I considered this as some sort of future for music via the then still growing internet. Bandcamp is the platform that so many of us as artists desperately needed, now it is an established entity, and the only way some artists are surviving currently.
The ghostly drones and feverish atmospherics keeping things ethereal and haunted, always able to act as defiantly divorced from the plentiful labours of pitiful planet earth. The soil it is caked in, and the cracked, maddening skin it is encased in, despite the disquieting, ubiquitous moments of psychotic heaviness, spinning and drilling into its haunted cynosure, its black seas, and its positron islands. Drums are loaded guns, hammers slam into crash helmets, superb execution of pressure to the frontal lobe, the unrelenting, propelling, excelling urgency of a hunted heartbeat, electrifies a churning, animalistic machine with every explosive, EBM alpha kick, forever motorising the movements of whatever surrounds its fine cyclone.
Facets of Harris’, as well as JK Flesh’s early material in the 90s, which cast them as playful, prolific progenitors of sometime experimental-electro rock-oriented, sometime noise-ravaged, sometime ambiance-laden musical forms in the doom vacuums, seem to erupt at each post, a polarity bursting at the seams, with a different kind of life, a unique kind of longing, when shuffling through, submerged in, and emerging from, the strange, supernatural portal as experienced and expressed across these four tunes. Because Techno is adjective and verb – magic and praxis, cold and warm synergised.
And this is another string to the bow, another arrow to the string, another reason to shoot through something and explore the other side. This is merely another invigorating means of demonstrating the relationship between man and machine when kicked into this kind of delightful, pulverising, mechanised drive, this fierce machine, this addictive ratio, the dark angst, the delirious hit, the searing drama.
All experienced right in the middle of this inescapable transducer groove. To make sense of the synth myth, the bloody funk. To disconnect from one instrument and attach onto another, seamlessly, ceaselessly, simultaneously. Something (techno), through the filter of someone (JK/M), and mangled (made sense of, rationalised via angst) accordingly to the standards of some curious child with a box of toys to outpour and assemble and thus – rearrange.
”I love working alone, and I love collaboration, alone mostly haha, I like how digital technology has allowed file-swapping though, so much baggage can get in the way when a bunch of people are thrown in a studio together!” – JK Flesh.
Basic Human Denial is pure ominous electronic darkness. Occasional occurrences of raw electro jolt in blood pressure. Electromagnetic energy absorbed by the bones until they turn silver. Orgasm of Clairaudience. The twisting, turbulent shudders of percussion continually climax towards the great planes of untamed, ecstatic states of both order and cacophony comingled. A magnificent stampeding, sudden swelling of immense sensations, transcendent and ablaze, surpassing the mighty high rise, above the tired steel sheets which cloak a surreal, liquid city; which coat the battered, ripped districts of an increasingly unorganized, dysfunctional wasteland.
It unfurls like the casting of a turbulent spell, an intimate Two Dimensional (from Depersonalization released on Hospital Productions last year) view becoming unstoppable, imposing 4D monster, from Holbrook Tower like the very one located in Broadrock’s 2017 JK Flesh release, Suicide Estate Antibiotic Armageddon (also on Hospital).
With such irresistible pathos, it growls and growls, grows and grows, devouring everything within reach, as awash with awe and disturbance than a panoramic, thermonuclear horizon, relative to the ones pieced together, and painted on, his 2018 darkwave-techno release (PI04 [π04]), never stopping for a second, subsisting in intensity, to pause for thought, to come up for air, and carries on towards the crippled edge of the forsaken earth.
There’s Always So Much Going On…-
RW: Are there any future releases in mind or projects you’d like to do and people you’d like to work with (i.e. the bug release on Pressure or the Hospital Productions release or the Felt EP on Resonance…all sick!)?
MH: I hope to record some more music with Jason Williamson again as he did a killer for the last Scorn LP on Talk Whiff. We still text each other and when he’s not so busy I hope I can get Jason on a track or two. His voice works/worked so well with Scorn.
JKB: There’s always so much going on, I couldn’t even detail it here, but whilst it’s Mick and I talking, it should be said that we will genuinely collaborate soon, not just a split, and that could also have others involved, but it’s still on the table at the moment.
This is a no-nonsense techno album, in name only, indeed.
Techno as the jaws of a wild animal tucked into a muzzle.
Techno as a punk in a straightjacket on the run.
Techno as a vehicle, a euphemism for fuel, and the streets are drenched in gasoline we throw a pathetic match onto, paving the way forth through space.
Techno like a foot through the floor, a fist crunching through the walls, pulling inward all it is built of the more we, mere mortals looking past the dirt and the grime of the current times in its subterraneous subsurface, push against its tough, rupturing infrastructure and produce something dark and uplifting in equal measures until we feel kindred to our interstellar brother and sister fugitives.
It engulfs so much more than such a term can point towards – an artistic need, a state of mind, a paradigm of survival as the modern aesthete, self-contained, unrelenting, collaborative, remote, resilient. Labouring over, and lost in, the seismic circuit breakers of the ferocious, voracious modern fire virus age. It opens a pair of parentheses containing an entire ecology of responses, a silent word, a salient emotive output, a basic channel, a whole spectrum of sensations that singe the tips and pierce the skin, which jerk the nerves and jumpstart the whole wheel of creative processes, encouraging the shakes to ricochet and spill into new forms of expression and excitement, all over again.
The death of one alias is the birth of another, for better or worse. The experience is hard to define, to reinvent is to evolve, and stay relevant, a notion brilliantly embodied on a continuous basis by Broadrick and Harris, as any of their respectful monikers, whereby there is more in common, in terms of approach or theme, than can be compartmentalized at first glance. To be punk and permutate. To exist lighter than air but the result is destined to be heavy.
Definitions are callous, labels are wasted, and names are plagues. But To See Red, and to really see red, as instinct, I find to be close enough here.
Ryan Walker is a writer from hell (Bolton). His online archive can be found here.