Electronic music should also be spontaneous.
Should be created out of the moment, out of sweat and
fire, out of the flesh. Who says so? Chakk say so.
Chakk are a group from Sheffield who describe
their music as ‘Electronic Skiffle’
ANDREW DARLINGTON investigates
‘FRAME OF BEHAVIOR…’
‘Vibrasound Studio’: sixteen-tracks of quality you can hear at a mere £10-per-hour, in a location of picturesque shabbiness.
Mark Brydon is behind the glass, hair disarrayed around his deep-furrowed centre-parting, hands limpet-clamping the headphones in close, drinking the playback in intense concentration. His bass guitar hangs quivering loose. Studio technician Snake is behind the desk, timing bass drop-in points – ‘shall we try that section again without the bass?’ Pale blue digitals tick off the count-in, pin-sharp graphic-equalisers rise green, peaking into red.
‘I wanna know what Sim thinks.’ The speakers explode shockwaves of sonic violence, a protracted guerrilla war of splattered plastic-cracking rhythms. ‘It sounds fine’ concedes Sim cautiously.
‘Vibrasound’ – this music-blasted area, caters to the not-inconsiderable needs of Sheffield’s last growth industry. The mighty Box were here recently recording their final vinyl, the twelve-inch EP ‘Muscle In’ (1984, Doublevision DVR P1). This week, it’s Chakk. And rules? Chakk make ‘em up as they go on. And go on they do!
‘We’re just working up from the basics of it’ explains Alan (Cross), ‘From now, from this stage on, it gets more and more interesting. Once you get to the saxophone+vocals stage, that’s where you get all the soul coming through – because they are essentially human. They’re directly related to the human body, the lungs, the lips. The saxophone IS you. The way you can completely change the note by the way you do ‘this’ or ‘this’…’ he twists the air emphatically in front of his face ‘…you’re in complete control of it all the time. You can access every little variation of sound. You can’t really get that feel off a knob, at least, you can’t just yet…’
Alan plays keyboards. He also plays the studio. This one, and others. He’s spent time working at ‘Jacobs’ in Surrey, under the wing of Ken Thomas. He was present at recording sessions for Test Department’s ‘Beating The Retreat’ box-set (1984, Some Bizzare TEST 2-3) with Genesis P Orridge in attendance, he was there for a Marilyn single, he spent a ‘fantastic day’ recording with Haircut 100, and more. He also gets a liner-notes credit on fellow-Sheffield band Hula’s ‘Murmur’ album (1984, Red Rhino REDLP53). His central concern though, is that ‘feel you get off a knob’. His ideal is immediate fingertip response, cutting the pre-thought factor back to the nerve.
‘The problem with a lot of it is that the technology is so FRUSTRATING. To get one decent crotchet programmed into that Yamaha CX5 thing (two quavers equal a crotchet – remember?) you have to press thirty buttons. It seems totally wrong to me. You should be able to have an idea – bang it in, try it out, if it doesn’t work, try another. But at the moment it’s longer than that. That’s because a lot of electronics is based on programming which involves a lot of pre-thought. But then, synthesisers have only been around for – what? ten, fifteen years or something, which isn’t very long. Saxophones have been around for two-hundred years. It’s got a long way to go. But that’s nice, ‘cos we’ve got a long way to go too!’
Chakk see themselves as Electronic Skiffle. They see their role to be to the late-eighties what Skiffle was to the fifties, Mersey Beat was to the sixties, and Punk was to the seventies. Raw. Spontaneous. They’re out to get ‘blood on the tracks’. ‘If you get enough blood on the tracks you get sparks up your spine off the music, which is what music is. What it SHOULD be.’ They’re out to humanise electronics, to get that same human immediacy with keyboards that you get with the sax. That’s the ideal.
‘OUT OF THE FLESH’
Chakk is ten-handed. Apart from those belonging to Mark and Alan there’s the aforementioned Sim (Simeon Lister) who provides sax, Dee Boyle (drums, percussion), and Jake Harries (voice and lyric-scripter). If you haven’t heard their critically-acclaimed ‘NME’ single-of-the-week 12” “Out Of The Flesh” you probably caught their John Peel sessions. If you heard neither – you’ve still time to catch up. There’s a substrate – or ‘core’, of highly danceable Funk bass and/or percussion – organic and generated, with connecting peripherals in a constant state of flux, tracks of distortion, twisted wires, tape-feeds and hybrid circuit-loops with built-in indeterminacy. There is no finished complete state. On the twelve-inch there are three mixes of “Out Of The Flesh” – none of them is definitive.
Chakk exist somewhere out beyond the territory unmapped by Cabaret Voltaire. In the closed environs of Sheffield the references are probably inescapable, but shouldn’t be overstated – and it’s a two-way exchange anyway. The Cab’s filched Chakk’s first drummer – Mark Tattersall, and it’s him you hear on the Cab’s excellent ‘Micro Phonies’ (November 1984, Some Bizzare/Virgin) album. In return, the original tapes for “Out Of The Flesh” were ‘evolved’ over two six-hour marathons at the Cab’s ‘Western Works’ studio (longer than it took the Beatles to record their entire first LP!), the end product issued on Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Doublevision’ record label.
For Chakk the studio is as important as the instrumentation. ‘We’ve always demo’d on a four-track’ Jake points out. ‘And that way we SAVE a lot of money. We don’t need a lot of expensive gear to get very good sounds.’
‘It costs money’ from Sim, ‘but then the four-track isn’t the end of the world. A lot of people spend money on guitars and amps. But if you twist it around a bit and think in terms of recording, with a lot of bands you study and you get your songs together, but when it comes to recording it’s a completely different world, and you have to learn a lot of new stuff. And at the same time – if you’re not used to it, you’re paying money to learn. Whereas with us, it’s always been IN the group.’
The studio is important, but only as a starting point of the creative process, not its culmination. Vis “Out Of The Flesh” – Alan took the two hours of tape produced at Western Works to his flat for final splicing and editing. ‘We’re used to working in a spontaneous sort of way. Recording ideas as they happen rather than having really worked-out arrangements’ explains Sim. ‘And that’s where the editing comes in. We get some ideas on tape, and then we chop it up, we put it back together in a different way, and spend time listening to that.’
Accepted wisdom of editing is mere cutting excess tape down to a commercially acceptable three-four-minutes radio-programmable product. For Alan – for Chakk, it’s a complete creative discipline in itself. ‘That’s what a lot of our motivation comes from. Just trying to prove to people that recording doesn’t need to be boring. It doesn’t need to be dull. It doesn’t need to be technologically wondrous. It’s interesting now because technology is just about getting going. We can start using it.’ Alan pauses, his head critically aslant. ‘There’s a lot of that technology that is bad – it’s more a barrier to getting that feeling across. To getting the HUMAN idea across. It’s important that you can hear that human aspect. The thing that comes oozing out of the pores…’
‘At the start of it, it was people like Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk who all latched onto the idea of electronic music – and they were GOOD! But because it was new they used it as a novelty. It was ‘this band use ONLY computers, and it’s AMAZING!’ They were utilising what was available, but their selling point was to have music that wasn’t human. They sold it by making it completely mechanical – the ‘ve are ze robots’ thing. But now I think people have got around to thinking ‘well OK, we’ve done that mechanical thing, why don’t we try to use the synthesiser in the same way that you use a viola or a cello?’ It should be all seen in the same light. But the technology or the design hasn’t quite caught up with that ideal.’
He leans back against the Vibrasound studio-glass between punishing takes, and grins in slow motion. ‘I can’t wait till they bring out an electric keyboard that is REALLY designed to play… like you play piano…’ ‘Vibrasound Studio’ is sixteen-tracks of quality you can hear at a mere £10-per-hour, in a location of picturesque shabbiness.
‘ELECTRONIC SOUNDMAKER Vol.3 No.4’
(UK – March 1985)
HOT MUSIC IN
A COLD CLIMATE
When I first interview Chakk they’ve just released their
debut single, with the second twelve-incher lined up for
imminent launch. The albums ‘Ten Days In An Elevator’
and ‘Beneath The Dancefloor’ are still in the future.
Still further along that future I will re-encounter Mark Brydon
when I interview his Moloko project. But here and now,
Chakk is new and vital and set on breaking rules…
‘RELEASE THE HEAT…’
Arctic Sheffield in deep mid-winter, and here in this studio complex, this building subdivided into a map of rehearsal rooms, jagged lines of deep bass lurk behind every door. Hot music in a cold climate. This building’s been through several lives, past incarnations peel off the wall in flakes of dead paint. Pre new-Depression it might have started out as a factory block.
Today: Chakk are recording here…
Chakk: their debut twelve-inch is “Out Of The Flesh”. An electronic chewing-gum of a rhythm track with vocal furniture scattered over it. Spooky swooshes of electro-wash. Hard-bound pulses that are gigantesque. It lurches along an aural precipice, almost – but not quite, out of control. Jagged sax spliced and tight-looped over a clack-clack clatter of stabbing skittering drums. Vocals are dislocated as semi-audible cut-up Sci-Fi voices drift in and out (‘the human race will not die, it will go on and on and on…’). It’s a blaze of noise signalling the advent of a dark millennium. It’s a challenge to the whole Industrial Funk state-of-play. And you can dance to it!
Jake Harries is the voice on the record. He sits here now, forward on the near-edge of his chair for emphasis. His hair is tufted into an overhang that precedes him. He wears a red close-check shirt clasped in at the throat with a small gold eagle. A logo’d carton of McDonald’s fries starts with him and is passed clock-wise like in some time-devolved hippie ritual of passing the joint, like some sub-‘Stranger In A Strange Land’ water-sharing rite. From Jake it goes to Sim Lister (saxophone), then to drummer time-keeper Dee Boyle who’s sat opposite me. He extracts three limp anaemic fries and angles them uncertainly into his mouth, then passes them on to bassist Mark Brydon, who declines the offer, thereby breaking the circle. Only one Chakk is now missing. He’s Alan Cross, and he’s still mixing tapes. Stories are told about Alan, about how his bedroom is pegged out with a clothes-line of different lengths of neatly numbered and annotated tapes, from which he’ll select and edit, mix and match.
Chakk: Mark explains what they tend to do. ‘What we tend to do’ he explains, ‘is just – like, actually, set up a kind of very very basic structure on a rhythm machine. Then what happens is the spontaneity that adds to it. A lot of the track is built up through processed sound or production ideas. That…’ he completes, ‘…is how it tends to work.’
‘That’s what we work from’ agrees Jake. ‘This machine – getting something that’s simple, but which works well as it stands.’
Dee retrieves the narrative. ‘I work alongside the drum machine. But maybe I’ll not even keep up the same rhythm. We tend to think in terms of sixteen-bars of ‘something’ – then a drop-in of something else. THAT’s when we know how to change, although we haven’t actually worked out what we’ll change from, or change to. It just says ‘we’re gonna change’…’
‘RELEASE THE HEAT, AND
LET ME BREATHE AGAIN…’
Outside, the blizzard sets in with a vengeance, while – in this studio complex, in this adventure playground of sound, me and Alan Cross sit on either side of an ITT portable cassette machine. ‘We did a first single that never came out – it was to be called “Stare Me Out” (it emerges as a track on their first album ‘Ten Days In An Elevator’). It was before “Out Of The Flesh”, and we did it at ‘Jacobs Studio’ in Fareham, Kent.’ This is Alan talking now, fast, authoritatively. ‘We started working on it when we had a deal with ‘Go Discs’ (the label that hosts Billy Bragg and Sheffield’s Box). But the deal was a complete non-event. Nevertheless we were working on this track down there with producer Ken Thomas. He liked what we were doing, and he just said to me ‘do you want a job here? Why not come in on some of the sessions I’ve got lined up.’ It was just a twist of fate really, but I ended up doing that for three or four months, working on some very varied sessions, which was good. I was asked to engineer the Test Department thing (their 1984 ‘Beating The Retreat’ box-set, for Some Bizzare TEST 2-3). I had quite a big hand in that. But I worked on everything. There were things like a day with Haircut 100, and then a Marilyn single (Boy George’s friend). I just sat in on that, I wasn’t playing a part on it, but it was quite an eye-opener seeing Ken doing that session. You learn a lot from actually seeing people do it, it’s the best way to learn. Sitting down and asking them – picking their brains, is one thing. But actually seeing it WORK is another!’
‘I even did a session with some people doing a ‘Library’ record. There are massive record libraries, EMI has one, but this one was for… um… can’t remember, it’s gone. Anyway, what they do is – when someone’s making a TV-commercial or a jingle, and they need some music, they go and pick one out of the Library. So, this particular week there were these people doing a Library record. It was a little different to working with a regular band, they knew EXACTLY what they were doing. They came in and set everything up, and in twelve days they’d done nearly ten sides! Everything was so… QUICK! There’s a bloke used to be in Be-Bop Deluxe – do you remember them? Andy ‘Mumbles’ Clarke. He’s ended up doing that for a living. Makes two albums a year, and lives off them. Lives very well too. He just bought a new house and all.’
One of the bands Alan engineered for during this period, but fails to mention, is Apocalypse. The now-defunct protégés of a certain Tony Fletcher’s ‘Jamming’ label. ‘But’ – he continues, ‘I found that, at the end of that time, I’d got to the stage where I wasn’t really bothered about the music that the bands were making. And that was really quite an important decision for me. Making a record, to me, is just like saying to someone ‘here’s my door-key’. It’s like throwing my door open to them. A lot of electronics people fail because they tend to forget that. They think they’re there just to make records, and that’s the be-all and end-all of everything. Just making records. They get into the trap where they’re making records and they think ‘you’ve got to make use of equipment like the Fairlight and the Emulator to be a contender’. Which, really, they don’t…’
Amrik Rai concurs. He’s Chakk’s manager. He’s also a totally hot journalist – part-Asian with a silly haircut (his description). ‘The “Out Of The Flesh” single was recorded on the cheap’ he adds. ‘For the price most people tend to spend on Speed.’ On reflection, his haircut’s not THAT silly, more a flatted pompadour that matches the shoestring tie quite well…
But Alan’s now into tech-speak, and accelerating. ‘The Emulator is wildly overpriced too. £7000 for that thing! It even LOOKS horrible. I know a few people who do computing, and when you talk to THEM about the way computers are coming into the music scene they laugh. Because computer technology is far more advanced than any of its applications in music. They’ve obviously got a long way to go, but instead, manufacturers have got into a rut. It’s like cameras or something. They’ve made a synthesiser. They know that it’s what sells. They know how to market it. It’s got THIS and THIS, oscillators and selectors, and they boast about it. They’ve settled for a format too soon. No-one’s come out with something REALLY wild, have they? I don’t know… a synth that runs off alpha waves or something. Just a different approach. But they’ve settled for something and they can sell it ‘cos musicians are pretty dumb!’ A thoughtful pause… ‘but that’s a point. Perhaps they SHOULD design something for idiots, yeah. If THAT approach to design was applied to a really good quality instrument then it’d be amazing. ‘Cos a lot of it’s just designed for boffins…’
But hang on – this is ‘Overground’ magazine, not ‘Technoflash Muso’s Monthly’. How’s about something salacious...?
‘TILL YOU’RE BURNING,
BURNING LIKE A FURNACE’
‘SHEFFIELD, THE CITY THAT LAUNCHED
A THOUSAND HIPS, IS SENDING OUT A
BECKONING CRY. THE WORD ON ITS LIPS
IS – CHAKK – “YOU” c/w “THEY SAY”
ESCAPES ON MARCH 14th’
(‘NME’ advert March 1985)
I go to my local Indie outlet to ask for “You”. “Chakk?” she says. “You mean Chaka Khan? We’ve got Chaka Khan.’ As though she’s offering me an acceptable alternative.
Chakk: they create sound tracts of creative disorder. A couple of 1982-‘83 cassette tapes emerged with the sound of nerves strung out and jangling like barbed wire in the wind. Of course, they draw on aspects of the past to upgrade and define their future – people say Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA or A Certain Ratio – but Chakk’s kind of intuition can’t be pre-programmed. Their music/non-music is structured with a painterly use of sound, almost taken outside its musical context. A non-musical use of sound in a dance-able art context. For “You”, a sample informs that ‘if chosen, the sacrificial virgin dances herself to death’, and a girl laughs, the way some girls do. ‘Hey you, you got me, I can’t move again’ it protests around shuddering juddering beats, ‘hey you, you’re in complete control again’. In Chakk, things like rhythm, pitch, melody and harmony are important – but they’re not the real issue. The issue is FEEL. The issue is to graphically illustrate a state of mind, it builds images out of noise.
When the ‘Go Discs’ deal left them stranded, Cabaret Voltaire bailed them out, taking “Out Of The Flesh” to launch their Doublevision label with an authentic sliver of vinyl shrapnel. The link-up was appropriate. Double your pleasure, double your fun. Doublevision was the complete design and development service, lifting Chakk into the rarified reaches of the Indies. And now…?
Now it’s been superseded by Amrik Rai’s latest project, Fon Records (as in ‘Fuck-Off-Nazis’), and…
‘No – “You”. As in ‘You’. The first Fon single.’
‘NUMBER ONE IN THE SERIES IS DOUBLE-HEADED TWELVE “YOU” c/w “THEY SAY” IN FOUR DIFFERENT EDITIONS. NUMBER TWO IS A LIMITED COMPRESSED SEVEN OF SAID TRACKS. NUMBER THREE IS GETTING CLOSER BY THE SECOND’ (the same ‘NME’ advert).
Outside, the snow falls in torrents. Inside, the interview disintegrates and the record playback of “You” begins. Tetchy rhythms shimmer in shockwaves of aural stress. An art of deliberate artlessness, a new high in the Industrial Funk state-of-play. It’s contagious. You can dance to it.
Chances R that Radio One’s Me-Mark Page hasn’t played it yet!
…and no-one mentions ‘getting into videos’…
(UK – August 1986)
BIRTHDAY PARTY IN
A BUSH OF GHOSTS
I interviewed Chakk in 1984.
Now, I play this interview back in my head.
It’s true that sometimes Chakk may have fallen short
of their aspirations, but there’s no doubting the tactile
sense of dangerous innovation about their project.
That buzz is still there. Still vivid. And you wonder,
where has that sense of adventure and experiment
gone to now? I don’t see much evidence
of this abrasive challenging attitude
around in today’s Indie.
I like Sheffield, the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire.
A month ago a thousand-kilogram German bomb dropped in the 1940-blitz caused the evacuation of three-hundred homes, and the cancellation of a Sheffield United football match at the ‘Bramall Lane’ ground. A week later evangelist Billy Graham drew some quarter-million people over eight nights at that same stadium, the cash collection alone raises £125,000. While the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) hold their autopsy on the UK’s most bitterly fought strike in the airless dungeons of Sheffield City Hall – and Councillor David Blunkett, led by his guide dog, conspires in games of bluff and counterbluff, to defy central government penalties and take Sheffield into deliberate bankruptcy, protecting jobs from the Monetarist axe. In Sheffield some eighteen-percent of men are unemployed, a quarter of them for at least two years…
‘Is that tape recorder picking any of this up?’ asks Sim genially. In this room there’s a lairy silence. But sound conducts subliminally up through the architecture from the Rehearsal Rooms leased in units all around, to infiltrate the circuits, to confuse and disrupt the pick-up. The interview winds up wound tight, the tape treated and processed with a background drone as pervasive as feedback. With Chakk – perhaps that’s an appropriate setting.
But to semantics: does the word Chakk MEAN anything? ‘It’s just a sound.’
Mark: ‘we were looking for a word that had a sound to it, just a sharp…’ he snaps his fingers in an abrupt detonation, the confused VU’s on my ITT jumping seismically, ‘… so we made the word up. But since then we’ve…’
‘…learned about a thousand things.’ Jake picks up the idea. ‘African sun. Dope smoking. Rain gods. Chakk means a few things – coincidental things!’
Dee: ‘It’s a Japanese brand of toothpaste.’
Amik Rai, late journalist for ‘NME’, now svengali for the jackleg ‘Fon’ label – cuts into the dialogue. ‘It’s a Mayan god also. Which is quite interesting. The last Eric Random single had a ‘B’-side called “Dream Web Of Maya” (flip of “Mad As Mankind”, Doublevision DVR7, produced by Cabaret Voltaire )…’
Jake: ‘It’s Toltec. It’s not Mayan actually, it’s Toltec. I looked it up yesterday.’
Chakk takes you from microchip to brain-tip. They played a gig with Box at Sheffield’s ‘Marples’ in March 1982. One with Hula at the ‘Leadmill’ in April 1984. That night they had no drummer, so ‘we borrowed the Cab’s (Cabaret Voltaire’s) drummer and made tape loops out of – I think it was a Junior record (“Mama Used To Say”), just for a backbeat.’ Since then, their records have come in short-awaited instalments. For “Out Of The Flesh” (Doublevision) the Cab’s picked up the price-tab on a vinyl barrage of electronic coded symbols fissioned by Funk atom-smashers. “You” c/w “They Say” (Fon) was ‘New Musical Express’ ‘Single Of The Week’ for 23 March 1985. ‘If sound can be said to bubble and thunder simultaneously, then it’s Chakk… a huge groove that flexes in and out of focus’ (reviewer Mat Snow). A sell-out gig at London’s ‘Camden Palace Alternative Top Of The Pops’ followed.
And rumours escalate thru the roof:
‘*Chakk sign to MCA for £500,000. They flirt with ideas of building a 161-track studio.’
‘*Chakk work on an EP collaboration with hot gospeller Dizzy Hites and Africa Bambaata.’
‘*Chakk contribute (“Big Hot Blues”) to the ‘Miami Vice’ soundtrack LP’ (not true).
‘*Chakk obtain the services of producers Sly and Robbie, bussing them 180-miles up the M1-motorway to Sheffield (while Dunbar and Shakespeare prefer a Bill Laswell production for their own electro-funk stab ‘Language Barrier’ LP for Island).’
Chakk-ology is, as artist Francis Bacon describes it, ‘a shorthand of sensation.’ Like arranging autowrecks in rhythm, Chakk’s sound has been bent, twisted, and shook shapeless through collision. But now they’re upping that ante, all their systems are GO!
So do Chakk collect interesting bits of sound for future use? Do they hoard and select tape-snips like a collagist roots through magazines to pick out bits of quirky artwork? Jake: ‘we’ve got a cassette we take out on location to record natural sounds – like snapping wood.’ Listen to those sharp percussion-bursts again. George Lucas taped the sound of Industrial Guillotines in a steel-mill to obtain the laser-hiss for ‘Star Wars’. It all ties in. NOTHING is coincidental.
I like Sheffield. Coming in off the Tinsley raised section of the M1 you pass the visible scars of Sheffield’s collapsed economic base. The number of jobs in the steel industry fell from 39,394 in 1979 to 18,217 in 1983. In the car on the way to the studio, passing ‘Bramall Lane’ football stadium, a radio buzz splices in and wraps-around – news bulletins of bombs and evangelists, and that somewhere out beyond this sky, lipping the horizon, the Space Shuttle orbits a military mission testing ‘Star Wars (SDI)’ lasers. Someone suggests Pres Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev should be placed in a sealed capsule and left to fight World War III on interactive Space Invader screens – while the rest of us listen to Chakk’s soundtrakk… c’mon, feel the NOIZENIKS!!!
Mark: ‘someone who writes a lot of musical theory would say ‘I want to convey this feeling by using a certain progression of chords’. Because they know that minor chords create a kind of atmospheric feel. Whereas – we do that to a certain extent, but we’re very limited musically, I think we do it more in the studio. You were saying how Cabaret Voltaire throw things up against the wall and see what sticks. We try to, sort of, imagine what’s gonna stick first – THEN throw it up against the wall!’
‘That’s just another step in the process’ concurs Jake, ‘it’s the same thing.’
‘Cos the Cabs – they REALLY, really KNOW roughly what they’re gonna do, although they say they don’t. I’m sure of it. It’s just an appropriate way for them to describe their technique, basically. That’s their ATTITUDE. That’s why they’ve got their own studio, their own recording gear, it’s definitely part of what they do.’
Mark: ‘the end result is just sound, communicating!’
This is the Chakk interview – in, and out of the flesh. Those present are:
*Jake Harries, vox/lyrics. Such a voice, from such an UNASSUMING face. The look of a young Bunnyman.
*Mark Brydon, bass, commanding interview-voice, and oblique studio strategies. Shaggy centre-parting and wire-rim spectacles, a dishevelled face from the research labs of terminal sonics.
*Sim Lister, sax – formerly of a band called Cabinet who once did a ‘Janice Long Session’ for BBC Radio One.
*Dee Boyle, drums, rhythms played on the hurry-up, laconic Rotherham accent, a man who’s suffered for his art, he was mugged on the way home from the studio and robbed of £3!
*Alan Cross, keyboards, a tape-splicer who bleeds and blends sounds, and who says ‘the Emulator? it’s not THAT amazing really!’
Footsteps walk up the wall towards the ceiling in odd formations. They date from the rehearsal studio’s earlier phase as a Karate school. ‘Hid-ar-ee-gam-i’ is left punching. ‘Knee-ko-Ashi-Datchi’ is Cat Stance. The rest of the foot-placing diagrams are semi-eclipsed by half-roll remnants and waterfall cascades of rich-weave carpets. I can’t be certain if they’re remaindered from some other earlier warehousing project, or are deliberately positioned here as attempted sound-baffles for rehearsing bands. Chakk are here now. Maybe, before I arrived, they were working through “Cut The Dust”, or “Who Needs A Better Life” (which they debuted at the Nottingham ‘Garage’). Perhaps it was “Out Of The Flesh” itself – a deafening blare of sound freighting every molecule and subatomic particle of air into furious retinal-stinging explosion, Jake braying vocals into and over it – ‘release the heat, and let me BREATHE again…’
Were they happy with the way “Out Of The Flesh” turned out?
Jake: ‘I hated it when we first did it. It… could’ve been better. But every band says that. It was done in the studio, made up in the studio. There was a lot of stuff we were doing, little ideas… so we just fit them all together while we were recording. Then we processed it. The finished product was somewhere in the two hours of tape we took off from the mixes. And then that’s put together for best effect. The track isn’t finished until it’s edited.’
Outside, the Space Shuttle seeds the sky with geostationary spy satellites. Like Billy Bragg sez, it’s wrong to wish on space hardware. ‘We’ve got to CREATE jobs, not DESTROY them’ hectors David Blunkett, heretically opposing Thatcher-inspired cuts.
‘CHAKK ARE A BIRTHDAY PARTY IN THE BUSH OF GHOSTS’ announces Amrik Rai (in ‘New Musical Express’ 20 March 1982).
I like Sheffield – the alleged Socialist Republic that’s produced the most intriguing music of the dekkade thus far. This, also, is no coincidence. It was Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, Vice Versa, Clock DVA, Heaven 17. Then it was Box, The Anti-Group, ABC, Hula, Cabaret Voltaire, Floy Joy, Vitamin Z – and Chakk. ‘That’s just another step in the process.’ Chakk is five intense and serious faces strung out around the rehearsal room. Chakk is the innovative spirit of the Cab’s ‘Red Mecca’ (Rough Trade, September 1981), mated with the black soul of DVA’s ‘Thirst’ (Fetish, January 1981), wrenched apart, reassembled and shoved forward on an electric Funk momentum. Mark and Alan (I suspect) are the ideological nucleus of the Chakk attakk (I could be wrong), they betray that nerve-drawn quality of the inspired extremist, the instinctive cutting edge that unites left with right hemisphere of the brain. Sim, Jake and Dee (I suspect) give that intuition a musical dexterity and form. In their harsh ellipticals of sound, chaotic irregulars and horizontal grains of processed noise and treated dubs, they’re reinventing reality from the stone-gone fabrications of blanket media overkill. They’re exaggerating reported and recorded life to the point of art and beyond – into DANCE. Testing dance music to destruction…?
Dee: ‘it’s an Electric Funk sort of dance music, yes. We use a sort of electronic Funk backing. It’s strict rhythm, and because it’s danceable it’s the mass medium of the day, so we deliberately use that.’
Jake: ‘unfortunately that’s how you sell records. That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s not the be-all and end-all of it, but we’re in the market, we’re doing it.’
Sim: ‘but we don’t want it to be JUST that. There’s a difference between just dancing, and what we want to do. Hopefully there’s a difference between the two. You dance to Chakk, but at the same time there’s a mood, an atmosphere. The approximate thing is – what we’re trying to do is to keep it more interesting, with a bit more FEEL!’
Skiffle: for those who don’t already know, Skiffle was an austerity pre-Rock ‘n’ Roll music of the bleak post-war 1950’s. Terry & Gerry’s kitsch xerox of its naivety has a degree of temporary contemporary novelty value (check out their ‘Butter’s On The Bread’ EP on Vindaloo Records). But Chakk – by applying, concentrating, and pressure-shaping the more intense energies of the bleak 1980’s through their utilisation of cheap technological toys, are more true to Skiffle’s creative spirit. Theirs is an Electronic Skiffle. Beneath a sky chokk-full of rinky-dink gizmo’s and gadgets, Trade Union leaders and Socialist Councillors fight for (what the Human League used to call) the “Dignity Of Labour” – while Chakk plot NEW directions. A Skiffle for technology’s Third Wave.
Skiffle? Jake: ‘exactly. It’s a great analogy. It’s really good – because our music isn’t complicated. Skiffle wasn’t complicated. What we do has just given it a new step-up of sounds and quality, technology – but it’s hopefully still retaining that sort of simplicity and guts.’
Mark: ‘a lot of the equipment we’ve bought isn’t (the term is) user-friendly. A lot of it’s so obscure that it’s very difficult to get that… Skiffle feel, that immediacy. Because you actually have to THINK too much.’
Sim: ‘we’re not into technology. There’s a difference between getting into buying a lot of gear, and basically getting something that you can push around. That’s what ‘user-friendly’ is. It’s no good getting into knobs, ‘cos all they do is tweak sounds. You should get into making the sounds. It’s getting better, technical things like drum-machines are better – but there’s the ‘Fairlight’ and ‘Greengate’ for instance (a Greengate ‘boxes’ sound-samples, allowing you to reduce or extend the decay-time at will within that ‘box’). The Greengate is a bit of a fiddle, it’s good – but you can’t go ‘POW-POW-POW-PA-PA-PA-POW’. You have to tap it in…’
‘…and read the manual first’ adds Dee.
‘…but that’ll improve, with time. And the reason for getting it isn’t to say ‘we’ve got a Greengate, we’ve got a blah blah blah, we’re something great’ – it’s to DO something, quickly and simply, but make it sound good. It’s just another tool.’
In the car on the way back through asphalt canyons of extinct steelworks to the Tinsley raised section of the M1, the interview tape is on the in-car speakers. ‘Is that tape recorder picking any of this up?’ asks Sim genially, like he’s on a loop. The cassette is wound tight, treated and processed with a background drone as pervasive as the industrial soundtrakk of dead factories. It all ties in. NOTHING is coincidental.
I like Sheffield…
CHAKK: The Albums
1982 – ‘Clocks And Babies’ (cassette) side one: “Caught In Your Face”, “Frame Of Behaviour”, “Scratch - Being Sick Pt. 2”, “God’s People”, “Salestalk”. Side two: “Square One (Back Two) Hip Hop... Trippity Trip, Down The Stairs... Rippity Rip”, “In Between Home And Dry”, “Mother Tongue”, “Picking Blooms With Aunty Offal – ‘How Many Times Have I Told You?’”, “Shut Down”, “Peeking Through Your Belly Button Air Air More Air Cut Your Way Out Get The Bus”, “Clocks And Babies”. Lists the personnel as Mark Tattersall (drums, percussion), Steve Nall (film technician), Mark Brydon (guitar, bass, vocals), Alan Cross (piano, synthesizer, vocals), Sim Lister (saxophone, trumpet, clarinet). Rcorded ‘at home’ or at Input Studios 1981-82
1986 – ‘Ten Days In An Elevator’ (vinyl LP with 12” EP, MCA MCG-6006, also as double LP, MCA 254185-1, and CD MCA DMCG 6006) side one: “Stare Me Out” (4:42), “Imagination (Who Needs A Better Life)” (5:03), “Big Hot Blues” (5:27), “Over The Edge” (7:26). Side two: “Lovetrip” (5:08), “She Conceives Destruction” (5:23), “Falling” (6:07)”, “Years I Worked” (5:40), + bonus 12” EP “Murderer / Big Hot Mix”, “Stare Me Out (Crash Mix)”, “Cut The Dust”. Lists personnel as Mark Brydon (bass, guitar), Diarmuid ‘Dee’ Boyle (drums), Alan Cross (keyboard programming, plus engineer tracks 1, 4 to 9, 12, with Frank Rosak tracks 2,3,6,7 and Robert Gordon tracks 1, 5 to 7, 12), Jake Harries and John Stuart (vocals), Sim Lister (saxophone, trumpet, French Horn), production by Chakk plus Richard James Burgess tracks 2,3,6,7. Robert Gordon co-remix on “Stare Me Out (Crash Mix)” plus Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare producers on “Stare Me Out”
1987 – ‘Beneath The Dancefloor – Basement Tapes’ (Chakk 1983-1984) (mini-LP, Fon FON-X6) side one: “Just Pieces (Edit)”, “Timebomb” (7” Cut), recorded November 1986 at Fon Studios 24-track. Side two: “Stare Me Out” December 1983 at Jacobs Farnham, “Cut The Dust” October 1983 at Input Sheffield eight-track, “Theme” May 1984 at Input, “Blind Eyes” recorded March 1983 at ‘Over The Underground’ Sheffield eight-track, B-sides from 1983 and 1984. Personnel listed as Mark Brydon (bass), Dee Boyle (drums on 1, 2 and ‘Theme’), Mark Tattersall (drums on other tracks), Alan Cross (keyboards, plus editing, with Ken Thomas on ‘Stare Me Out’), Sim Lister (saxophone), John Stuart (vocals on side one), Jake Harries (vocals on side two)
2007 – ‘Out Of The Flesh: The Singles’ (iTunes download) with “You” (6:27), “They Say” (4:57), “Imagination (Extended)” (6:37), “Imagination (Dub)” (6:29), “Out of the Flesh”(6:00), “Take Your Time” (5:24), “The Pieces” (5:16), “Just Wait” (4:58), “Take Your Time (Earth Calling Remix)” (7:53)
CHAKK: The Singles
1984 – “Out Of The Flesh (Mix I)” (6:00) c/w “Out Of The Flesh (Mix II)” (3:53) + “Out Of The Flesh (Mix III)” (5:06) Produced by Richard H Kirk (12”, Doublevision DVR-6). UK Indie no. 3
17 October 1984 – ‘John Peel Show’ Radio One session includes “Cut The Dust”, “Sedative Ends”, “No. 3 Sound”, and “Mother Tongues”
March 1985 – “You” c/w “They Say” (7”, Fon FON 001). UK Indie no. 14, with simultaneous 12” (Fon FONT-001) “You (Mix 1)” + “You (Mix 2)” c/w “They Say (Mix 1)” + “They Say (Mix 2)”)
1986 – “Imagination (Who Needs A Better Life)” (4:15) c/w “Imagination (Instrumental)” (7”, MCA/Fon FON-2), with simultaneous 12” “Imagination (Extended Mix)” c/w “Imagination (Dub Mix)” + “Imagination (Instrumental)” (MCA/Fon FONT-2)
1986 – “Big Hot Blues” c/w “Cut The Dust” (7”, MCA/Fon FON-3), with simultaneous 12”, “Big Hot Blues (Extended Mix)” c/w “Big Blue Mix” + “Cut The Dust” (12", MCA/Fon FONT-3)
1986 – “Bloodsport” (12”, Fon SWAN-3) with “Bloodsport (The Full Report)” c/w “Bloodsport (State Of Emergency) + “Bloodsport (Too Little Too Late)” collaboration with The Swanhunters
1986 – “Time Bomb” c/w “Just Pieces” (7”, Fon FON-06), UK Indie no. 20, with simultaneous ‘Timebomb’ EP (12”, Fon FONT-6) with “ Take Your Time” (5:23)” c/w “The Pieces” (5:14) + “Just Wait” (4:57). Also a ‘Timebomb Crashpack’ (Fon FONT-6-P) includes single-sided 12” “Out Of The Flesh” (FONT-10)
1987 – ‘Timebomb (Bombed-Out Remixes)’ (12”, Fon FONL-6) with “Take Your Time (Earth Calling)” c/w “Just Pieces (Bumper Bomb Bonus)”, “Just Pieces (Bomb-Bay Mix)”, “Just Pieces (Bouncing Beats)”
1987 – “Brain” c/w “Years I Worked” (45rpm, plus 12”, Fon CHAKK-1), credited as ‘previously unreleased original MCA recording’. Message in run-out groove reads ‘Demolish The Demo’ and ‘Footie Tonight Lads!’
FON STUDIOS. Chakk’s £100,000 advance from MCA records funded their own Sheffield-based studio, which became key to subsequent local music
DJ CHAKK. An alias used in 1986 for a Fon remix of Age Of Chance’s version of Prince’s “Kiss” on their ‘Crush Collision’ (Fon AGE9) set, with three mixes (‘Sonic Crush Symphony’, ‘Your Move America’ and ‘Leeds vs The Bronx’) included on ‘Kiss: Jack-Knife Remixes’ 12” (Fon AGE L5). Alan Cross credited as engineer
KRUSH. Producers Mark Brydon and Robert Gordon, with Mark Gamble and Cassius Campbell, working as Krush, score a sample-based dance-track no.3 hit in December 1987 with “House Arrest” (Club JAB63), followed by “Walking On Sunshine”, no.71 in November 1992 (Network NWK55)
FUNKY WORM. Marky Brydon group score a no.13 hit in July 1988 with “Hustle! (To The Music)” (Fon FON15), no.61 in November 1988 with “The Spell” (Fon FON16), and no.46 in May 1989 with “U+Me=Love” (Fon FON19)
MOLOKO. Mark Brydon’s major 1990’s project, teamed with vocalist Róisín Murphy for a series of hit albums. See separate interviews http://andrewdarlington.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/moloko-i-should-coco-moloko-take-their.html
‘MADE IN SHEFFIELD’ (2009) Chakk are featured in Eve Wood’s documentary films about Sheffield music, this one – and ‘The Beat Is The Law’ (2011)
with thanks to Amrik Rai, then based at
27 Victoria Road, Sheffield S10 2DJ
27 Victoria Road, Sheffield S10 2DJ