Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Interview: Uberbyte

An Electro Manifesto...

"I've also noted that its ridiculous easy to be outspoken. And all I have to say on that is that I thought the idea of being "non conformist" was in fact to not conform and formulate your own opinions and personality. It seems to me then hugely ironic that some of the least free thinking people are those committed to rejecting "the mainstream"."

Uberbyte have, in five short years, crafted a strong presence in the industrial scene with a string of dance floor hits and a formidable live reputation making them one of the most relevant bands to emerge from Sheffield since Cabaret Voltaire. 2012 saw the release of the band's fifth full-length album 'Five Year Plan' on their new label Vendetta Music. An apt partnership as front man / composer Richard Pyne and his crew have set out to turn the industrial scene on its head with an album which has proved to not only garnered much critical acclaim for the band, but also rattled a lot of people's cages.
Sean M. Palfrey caught up with Richard recently to talk about the album the band had always threatened to make, the state of the current industrial scene and challenging himself as a song writer.

Intravenous Magazine: 'Five Year Plan' has been out for a few of months now, what has the reaction to it been like so far?

Richard Pyne: Crazy. Basically. I think in terms of leaving a footprint it puts us somewhere we've not been before. The reviews, the feedback, the buzz I'd say have all been a combination of excitement and anger. Fortunately for us I think most people have simply reacted to the songs and the energy of the album in a hugely supportive way. Others plainly feel quite angry that we've rejected their ideas on what an industrial band is supposed to do.

IVM: Has this met or exceeded your expectations for the album at all?

RP: When I first played the early form of the album to a bunch of people from the industry I remember being told that they thought it was great work but I had to be prepared for some negativity. And I have always known what this scene is like and how threatened by change a minority of people in it are. That’s understandable. No one likes to feel outdated and behind the times. Its a difficult thing to come to terms with.
I had no idea how the reviews would go. Other than some would inevitably hate it for the reasons I've outlines. Or at least hate the theory of it. But I was surprised how many "scene" magazines came down in favour of it. I was worried a couple wouldn't be down with what we were trying to do and it was great to find some in fact were supportive of someone throwing a wildcat into the hills.

IVM: Uberbyte has always had a distinctive style, but 'Five Year Plan' throws all the rules out of the window. What was your motivation going into the album and do you feel you achieved your goals?

RP: We'd threatened to make a "pop" album for some time. And while that’s misleading I did feel our prior album had showed the ambition to change but not the courage and had suffered for it. I wasn't generally happy with the first four albums and felt that it was best to take stock and remind myself what as a songwriter were my strengths. And sadly monotonic hate is not one really. So really five year plan is kind of ditching the attempts to fit in to something that was arguably wasting my talents as a guy who pens catchy hooks and well structured songs.
Technically speaking the first four albums were a useful learning curve and by 'NFY' I felt I'd got the hang of the type of production I wanted. But something was missing and that was to let my voice out of its box and to sing some real songs.
I firmly believe it takes courage to do that in a style of music renowned for its resistance to change and its dislike of outside influences. But my commitment to any scene is a distant second to my need to make better music. And if that scene is becoming a block to achieving better music than I felt the moral thing to do, the right thing to do was to dismantle that barrier and simply do what my heart told me I should.
Besides frankly the rewards of staying true to a dogma is dependant on some kind of threat or reward. Neither seemed present to me. So there seemed no reason not to break free and abandon some facets (not all) that seemed to me dated and offered no inspiration.

IVM: The album features both serious as well as more light-hearted songs that cover a variety of themes, was this a conscious effort or a more organic process?

RP: Thing is. I always felt that the ultimate test of a songwriter was to make songs that have some real life and joy in them. There's a reason misanthropic music is dogged by the "sixth form poetry" accusation. Its because angst is and always has been kinda easy. To make a good pop song. One that will last. Takes a much more serious craft in my opinion.
We went into the album fully intending as well to write songs relevant to our own lives. And people have to bear in mind that there's been some huge changes in who we are and clichés about hedonism are irrelevant to who we are in 2012. So some of the subjects and the songs as a result are more personal and more grounded in reality. They have. If you like. The "common touch". And if anything we were conscious not to be pretentious or try to pretend to be some dark lords of sexy darkness when we clearly are not.

IVM: The sound of the band has been shaken up, did you change the way you approach song writing and constructing in order to facilitate this?

RP: Form a technical perspective we spent much more time on sound design and got under the hood of our gear more than we have before. In terms of outside influences this is perhaps where the most profound changes happened. The reason many scene bands sound similar is that they're using the same preset sounds off VST's. A fantastic example being the Factory Bank on Vanguard (a virtual synth very popular with terror EBM acts). If we're using our own synth sounds and drum composites then that instantly marks us out as different.
I spent over two weeks in mid 2011 just locked in someone’s attic with two synths making sounds. And many of those sounds wound up on 5YP. There was a huge hard dance aspect to this and perhaps dubstep too because both those scenes' artists are pushed to spend time on Sound Design to achieve their own sound. And perhaps that’s what marks this release as having an "otherness" about it. We didn't used synth presets that have that familiarity about them. Because we felt that familiarity had bred contempt.

IVM: You've also dropped some of the more entrenched Uberbyte motifs such as the three letter album titles and the militaristic uniforms. Was this an easy decision and did you receive any backlash?

RP: On those particular issues no not much. Our image has evolved several times and this time all we did was go for something we felt wouldn't automatically alienate people who weren't industrial fans. Plus events like the London riots had impacted on our world and our thinking. There was allot of talk about "connection" last year in the media and we felt a resonance with that. And I think my giving a chance to the music of the younger crowd impacted on me when I realised that it was in fact often as good or better than what I had grown up with. We're not saying that hordes of hoodies are going to get into Uberbyte. That’s almost certainly not going to happen. But we are inclined to blur the line between "us and them" because we feel that it is often an artificial one. There are wonderful and awful people in every music scene. In comparable percentages. We simply want to stop writing these people off and instead focus on what different forms of electro have in common.

IVM: What has the live reaction been like to the new songs and how do you feel they stand next to your established material?

RP: Thus far our only tough gig has been in Birmingham this year. But that’s always been the case. Don't ask me why.
I've sensed when we've played this material so far a genuine desire from the crowd to hear something new and let off a bit of steam. And its been lots of fun as a result.
It was the reaction to two new tracks on the Aesthetic Perfection tour in late 2011 that fully convinced me we could do this and should do this. You can't fake real enthusiasm and the first few times we played 'Jump Into Hell' the reaction was unlike anything we'd had before. Far more spontaneous and organic.

IVM: You've been quite outspoken in regards to your thoughts on the state of the industrial scene. Do you think it has ground to a halt or is there any hope amongst the current crop of bands?

RP: Without doubt its in crisis. You cannot simply ignore the pointers. Infest had a record low turnout in 2011. Many of the retailers are losing premises or facing bankruptcy. And even the big bands have seemed to struggle to draw the crowds in 2012 from what I've seen. To the point many promoters I know who were regular bookers of industrial acts are now not doing so because they cannot afford to lose money hand over fist.
People can deny this if they wish but they're welcome to go ask some of the sources I can cite if they want to ask directly.
If we accept that. Then we have to say that the current dogma. The current way of doing things. Is not working. And if your management is running the company into the ground, you sack them and go in a  new direction. I am not saying that we have all the answers and we're one of a series of bands challenging the traditional order. We do so in full knowledge that its risky to do so but that should make it al the more clear to people that our motives are honest ones. In a sense. Someone has to take a stand and it transpires that we're far from the only ones.
Acts: Cryogenic Echelon, Modulate, Cease2xist, XP8 and Grendel are all showing the desire to adapt. To varying degrees for sure. But the will is there. And its my assertion that many of the tireless EBM acts are far less rigid than popular opinion suggests. Its just that they're untouchable enough to do what they want. Covenant spring to mind there.
And there's some fantastic hard electronic being made that to me has far more in common with the legacy of industrial that many bands cited as acceptable by the elitists. People like Excision and Datsik are throwing out dubstep that’s ultra tough and and has a real vicious edge. People like Angerfist and Tha Playah are doing hardcore more robust and intense than practically anything industrial has ever come up with.  In fact these are thrilling times for people who like electro that has a hard edge. But the old style of ebm for me has run its course and its best to leave it as a good memory than an embarrassing nostalgia trip.
I've also noted that its ridiculous easy to be outspoken. And all I have to say on that is that I thought the idea of being "non conformist" was in fact to not conform and formulate your own opinions and personality. It seems to me then hugely ironic that some of the least free thinking people are those committed to rejecting "the mainstream".

IVM: After Crunch Pod Records unfortunately closed its doors you inked a deal with Vendetta Music. How did you come to sign with them and how has this relationship benefited the band?

RP: Crunch Pod will always be a treasure memory for me. I understand Ben wanted to move on and concentrate on his own music but I'll miss the camaraderie of that label and the unique roster it had. Vendetta however is also something great to be part of and Dave has been hugely supportive. Also he's proved an honest and loyal guy and those are the two virtues I rate as crucial to a good working relationship.
There were other offers on the table. In fact for a while we signed to a different label. But that fell through and in the end I think we've ended up with the right label and the good start we've enjoyed on this album supports that.

IVM: You've recently posted a track to Soundcloud  under the name "Negative Man" which you stated is the working name for a dub / electro project you're developing. What is your ambitions for this project and what are your particular influences?

RP: I'm still finding a direction for that. Probably somewhere toward the more melodic and atmospheric side of complextro / dubstep... call it what you will. I think I've now got the production chops to do something in that area that’s competitive. It's probably now a question of finding the right co-conspirators as on this one I don't want to be the front man / singer but would probably wanna walk with a female voice for sure. And possibly someone with a more contemporary urban vocal style than mine.
My ambitions as always are to be as good as I can. And to push myself to do things I've not done before.

IVM: You've had a pretty steady release schedule for Uberbyte, would this side project hold up the next Uberbyte album at all?

RP: Yes I think there will be a bit of a longer gap now. Five albums in five years is a lot. And for Uberbyte I now want a couple years of plugging and gigging this album because it deserves it. Also I think matching or bettering it will be a challenge so I'll need time to do just that.

IVM: Uberbyte will return to Resistanz Festival next year, which is shaping up to look like one of the biggest Industrial festivals of the year. How important is the festival for Sheffield and for Uberbyte?

RP: Sheffield for sure seems in slightly less rude health than it did three or four years ago so the festival is indeed important. I hope for us that it goes well and that we can put on a special show. I'm sure there will be some tooth grinding out in the food area during out set. But we've already established that if that’s the price of making music we believe in we're more than willing to pay it.
Everyone else though. We'll do the best we can for them. Every time and all the time.

IVM: Aside from Resistanz Festival are there any other plans in the works for Uberbyte next year?

RP: The gigging scene is at all all time low for everyone. So its tricky to know what to do to maintain that balance between profile and overkill. But we will do what we can. And we're considering a few different strategies. Our ambition is to try to gig to some people that have not seen us before and we'll see what we can do about that.

Uberbyte's latest album 'Five Year Plan' is available now through Vendetta Music. Too keep up to date with the latest from check out their official website: www.uberbyte.net.

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