Not many musical acts can say they have continuously been creating and performing for 40 years. ATTRITION is one of those groups that have weathered the British music scene since their evolution in 1980, to become a force spoken in hushed tones, passing from an electro/industrial band to being something legendary within the scene. Martin Bowes had been at the helm consistently, throughout all the band changes. He was approached by Sleeper Records to release a special vinyl album to celebrate this milestone. They decided to pick music from the period 1986 to 2004, as this music has never been released on vinyl until now.
This compilation is named A Great Desire, containing ten tracks that can be found on a variety of albums which were all originally only released on Compact Disc, which was crushing the sales of vinyl by the end of the 80s. There are a selection that includes the wonderfully brass filled and brash “To The Devil“, the delicate and sinful “Acid Tongue“, the sexy “Sister Teresa” and the experimental and extraordinary title track, “A Great Desire“. To that end, Martin Bowes spoke to us about the new album and the past, present and future of ATTRITION.
Welcome to the rabbit hole that is Onyx, Martin Bowes.
Thank you for having me!
Did you ever foresee ATTRITION lasting more than 40 years and still making relevant music?
I don’t think I really thought that far ahead in 1980! And I still often get the feeling I have only just started in music… which propels me to make the next album or shows or videos or artwork…. I write music for myself… a cathartic thing… so the relevance I feel is only ultimately for me… but I know other people get something from my music and that makes me smile…
ATTRITION started in Coventry, your home city, which you have never really left and have your studio, The Cage there. Until the 90s, it has a been a city that bore the scars from the Second World War. Do you think in part this has been a catalyst for the sound and imagery of the band?
Well I arrived in Coventry as a 5 year old in the mid sixties, my parents moved here during the post war car manufacturing boom town era. I saw it falling apart in the eighties when the factories closed down (becoming a ghost town, as the song says) and after the first ATTRITION album in 1984 and first european tour (with the Legendary Pink Dots that same year) we all uprooted to London for a couple of years… after which I moved to Holland for another couple…. Coming back to Coventry in 1989. I think the industrial decay of my home town has definitely had an impact on the sound of ATTRITION, but it is also a very historic town…thankfully being restored these days… and that love of history has always been with me too.
Could you tell what influenced you into starting ATTRITION and how the band began?
I was blown away by punk rock in 1977…. It was there for me at just the right time…what an angry teenager needed… helped make sense of the nonsense I could see around me…. And it still does. I had absolutely no musical skill or knowledge but needed to get involved in this… so in 1979 I started my punk/post-punk fanzine “Alternative Sounds” , writing mostly about the scene in and around Coventry at the time, which was a wonderful scene… the Specials and Two Tone being a very famous part of it but there was so much more…. I did 18 issues and a special for the BBC TV Something Else program at the time. In 1980 I finally started to mess with recording sounds and instruments and a fledgling ATTRITION was born…. We played our first few shows in December 1980 as a kind of anarchist/post punk guitar, bass, drums and vocals line up…After those shows we soon started to trade in guitars and drums for synths and drum machines….
February see the release on vinyl of A Great Desire (1986 – 2004), which is a collection of songs from that time that that were released on CDs. It was around 1986 when the CD was coming into vogue and many said that vinyl was nigh. What inspired you to do this release and is it satifying to see these tracks going to the classic and dare might I say, beautiful vinyl?
We have started to have some new vinyl releases or reissues and we were asked by LA/Berlin based label Sleepers records to release this vinyl… they actually chose the track listing which I found interesting as I always do it myself and it was good to have a different opinion. Its wonderful to have music released in any format but of course vinyl is very special…. They have included 2 posters with this too which is something you can only do with vinyl!
You remastered all the tracks at The Cage Studio. Was it a good feeling to wander down those musical lanes of memory and was it a big task to do the remastering?
I have a large box full of all the old DAT tapes from that era and it didn’t take too long to track down the original mixes and master them specially for vinyl this time… I’m really pleased with how they turned out… well I master music here almost every day so I’ve had enough practice by now! Its always a strange but ultimately nice experience… like looking through old photographs or diaries…. I’m happy with the past….
Was there anything that you would have liked to change or did change?
It was more just getting the old recordings to sound as good as they can… and have recordings from different eras and studios sit together well…. I think it worked!
You also run the record company Two Gods which was originally created to release the ATTRITION albums. Since then you have opened up the label and put together some rather interesting compilations. What does running Two Gods mean to you personally?
Yes I started the Two Gods label (taken from the song of the same name) in 2006 when I was releasing music through a larger distributor … so it was all the old ATTRITION albums, and some live and compilations or remix albums at first…I then took it further and digitised/mastered a lot of old recordings from cassette etc for digital only release… it made sense for the recordings that didn’t warrant a physical release but I still wanted to get out there… I expanded this for side projects like ENGRAM and took on some other bands for digital only release… that part was an experiment and I didn’t have anywhere near enough time to market the other bands…I’d thought of it more as a collaboration using my networks… so after a few releases and label samplers I decided to take it back to ATTRITION only and give me more time for me…
Since you released Death House in 1982, how do you think the sound of ATTRITION has changed over the years?
The sound has always evolved and changed…and there has always been two sides to the sound… a more upbeat, rhythmic side to ATTRITION, and I have also been interested in sound tracks… as a visual artist origionally I still see music in terms of pcitures, of landscapes… so I relate to soundtracks… This Death House was the first soundtrack we ever did… in amongst all the “strange” experimental electronic songs we were mainly recording… It was reissued on vinyl too last year and we finally got to perform it live… I got the original line up together for that and we performed it as “Death House Variations” with a new take on it…
Just before ATTRITION came into being, there had been several waves. Glam rock, followed by punk which then morphed in the post-punk. Yet, under all that was this odd electric style being pioneered in Britain by the likes of Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, Clock DVA etc. What bands or music inspired you in your youth?
So many… I first got heavily into the glam of Roxy Music, Marc Bolan, Cockney Rebel, and Bowie of course…then I got into rock n roll in that boring period for new music of the mid seventies… then Punk totally captivated me… politically at the very least…post punk of bands like Kraftwerk, The Cabs, Magazine, PIL and Joy Division influenced the early ATTRITION sound…and then over the years I have taken in more and more influences… as much from life itself as from art….
Do you remember the first live band you ever saw?
I remember it well…it was The Stranglers here in Coventry in June 1977. A good time to be alive.
What acts or bands do you listen to now or find enlightenment in?
So many from the past still…I still listen to lots of old punk records… love The Fall… and over the years I got into classical and neo-classical… and bands like The Prodigy and drum n bass and rap from bands like Public Enemy …I get to hear so much new and “new to me” music in my studio all the time…. It’s all good.
I noticed on social media that ATTRITION has been featured as a exhibit, with flyers, posters and such things in Coventry. How does it feel knowing you are now woven into the fabric of that city?
Coventry is the UK City of Culture 2021/22 and I have been a part of that… my fanzine was featured heavily as part of the Two Tone exhibition here and as part of a Coventry music mural in the town centre… was great to see a photo of me up there… I offer to take anyone to see it when they visit… ATTRITION has featured as part of a Coventry music scene of the early eighties photo exhibition (we played a show as part of that too) and I had some music commissioned as part of a City compilation of bands… Despite living here in Coventry I never had to much to do with the place musically (I had so much of the world to get to) so its been nice to have the recognition now.
You did the mastering for the Thanatos album Covered Country. I am still trying to think of payback to inflict on a certain Kiwi that tricked me into review it (country and I don’t mix). How did you find listening and mastering this genre?
Haha! That’s my old friend Pat Ogl! He used to work for our old US label Projekt back in the nineties and we always stay in touch…. I love his songs! I’m also a Johnny Cash fan so give it a few more plays, it will grow on you!
I know you do a lot of mixing and mastering for others. Has covid affected how you go about playing and promoting with ATTRITION?
Well between Covid and Brexit we haven’t been able to play abroad since we went to Tokyo in December 2019… have been playing some more low key UK shows recently so I’m hoping things get better again soon…I am used to touring all over the place (we have played on 4 continents so far) so I’m missing all of it… I know its been the same for so many bands… promoting isn’t too bad, I can still do that in other ways… and for my studio, I’ve actually had more music sent to me to mix/master than ever, as more bands concentrated on recording.
What plans lay ahead for Martin Bowes in the future and what shall we hear next with ATTRITION?
My long delayed new album, The Black Maria… will be finished soon and out later this year (planning vinyl of course) and I am also planning to release a lot of the older CD only albums we did in special limited runs…. And then I’ll be onto the next album and hoping to get out to play near you sometime soon!
Thank you for so kindly for talking to us.
Thank you for the interview…. Martin Bowes, Coventry, England. February 2022