This is the fourth time I've written about one of Damian B.'s projects—khost, TRIAL, Deathless—in the past two years alone (he's also performed with projects such as 16-17, Gauge, Techno Animal, etc.), so... let's just say that the man keeps busy and has amassed quite an interesting discography since the late-'80s. Out in just a few days on July 12 via Avalanche Recordings, the forthcoming full-length from solo outing CARTHAGE, Midnight White, is a 10-song, 50-minute excursion through a vast array of experimental industrial soundscapes full of churning dissonance and percussive pulses. What the pre-release tracks have yet to reveal about the album as a whole, however, are its transitions in and out of stripped down, synth-centric post-punk melodies and somber, droning etherealities.
So, while "Arclight"—a collaboration with Daniela VK—falls into the former category and should strike a chord with fans of the khost niche, just keep in mind that come Monday, there will be much more to explore... as touched upon in the following chat with Damian:
Decent chunks of time tend to pass between "substantive" (i.e. not compilation appearances, etc.) CARTHAGE releases, and you generally keep busy with an assortment of other projects, so is there any rhyme or reason as to when inspiration strikes for or creative output gravitates toward your efforts with CARTHAGE?
I guess for Midnight White it started in 2020. I was asked by a great person called Boris to do a mix for an event. I wondered what to do, and the main thing was to include a long piece I did a few years back for an event in Stuttgart in memory of Daniel Buess. That piece was called "Cryptic Dusk," and it was one where I went deep into a type of doom metal, but fused with a lot of thoughts about memory and time passing. I hadn't really stretched out into doom in this way. Daniel's beats are the basis of this.
So, for the mix, "Cryptic Dusk" appears, but it's staggered through the mix, and overall something developed. This I guess is my main point. I realized how deep I wanted to go into certain atmospheres. I also dug deep into the archives for this mix, so there's a wide range of things—fragments from time.
In early 2021, I started to stretch out a bit on the doom front with a piece called "Solitude Rains"—something that would be cool to play live, and that's when this album started to really form. But it is always there—the thought that certain material is definitely "CARTHAGE" material.
One day in 2020, I also was playing with a clean, depressive, lo-fi riff which was inspired by The Mark of Cain... their almighty track "You Let Me Down." I wanted to sort of pay tribute to that great band—they're friends with whom I have shared a stage—with something that was a fucking barrage; my interpretation and tribute to this singular approach that they have—best described as a military, weaponized, hardcore assault—and I quickly wrote "Filthy Consumption." There's no ambiguity in this track: it's an attack and directly aimed at consumer-driven waste and the decimation of the planet. That track was all first takes.
Same with "Tinseltown": one morning I got up and did the vocal in one take, seeing how quickly I could get it down as I had the lyrics. The music for that was done super quickly that same day, and soon I had version one.
I was just imagining The Birthday Party, Blixa [Bargeld], or The Boys Next Door in a dark warehouse, maybe a bonfire near for the source of illumination, and wanted to tap into exactly the sort of world they described: the stuff Nick [Cave] would sing, the guitar Rowland [S. Howard] would play, and pretty much completely immerse into that world and let it spill out into the streets. It's pretty much describing those exact environs.
For the bulk of the album, it's now something I see as a blur of activity that really took hold later in 2020, really when winter was biting hard, when I really feel nature is super strong, resilient, and I just love that. In answer to your part about inspiration, by then it was full flow, all the way until March '21.
I haven't heard too much of the earliest work from CARTHAGE, but compared to 2015's 9115, Midnight White is much lengthier and more diverse than I anticipated. In some ways, it's like the album flows through three phases—more of a lean on "guitar-centric," abstract industrial that at times brings your contributions to khost or TRIAL to mind; a section of almost "darkwave," synth-centered compositions; then the final stretch flowing into an experimental/ambient fusion of all of these characteristics. How intentional (or not) was the variety and arrangement herein?
Without being particularly arty, I got feelings through 2020 that certain tracks "had to exist" and be part of something. They became varied in style over time as they got buffeted and shaped by the elements.
For the synth material, I was driving one day and thought about all sorts of photographs from time—like from when you're a kid—and thought about this sort of synth track called "Bride in White." It's got a lot of deep associations as 2020 was pretty heavy in parts. I thought that it'd be great as a synth track. "Cold Velocity" on the synth front, too, which I'll mention soon.
"Condemned" was much longer in the original version and had twisted bits to it, but I cut it way back. It has repetitive parts, which is also in "Filthy Consumption," and I'm addicted to those. About repetition: I hear tracks from some artists, I don't want "interim" bits to stop, for the song to necessarily change or "drop," as it feels like some forces want and expect it to? I just want pure repetition sometimes, and find out what shifts and sounds and lyrics then come from those long sections.
The guitar tracks are inspired by so much, and as you know I love screamo, post-hardcore, unclassifiable metalcore, grind, stuff like Fawn Limbs, Sectioned... I don't sound like that stuff, but die for it and can't believe how good those bands are.
"Peril" was really one that came from nowhere, like a freight train. It's actually a guitar track that started as almost a black metal onslaught, but with buried drums and vocals. About buried sounds: I loooooove how Midwife uses vocals and space and also see their sound as a form of "metal." That world is an awesome one to be in, and I was and am definitely in awe of that when writing.
For the end of the album, "Next to You" came from a synth glitch... I couldn't stop the unit and it kept playing the main part, that repetitive melody. I hooked up something and recorded the mistake. But it was really this "place" to be at the end of the album—to me—like walking out of a terminal into a large space.
In general there was an intention with the order of the tracks, but they sort of started to sit with each other naturally as the album came about.
Older CARTHAGE was done in a place I lived in Handsworth, Birmingham in the '90s, and was just me playing loops—both from a simple computer and from a delay pedal—sometimes with spoken word, straight to four-track. I actually did the first solo show on a bill with [Henry] Rollins at the very end of the '80s, and did bass guitar tones and spoken word, so that was the first time I had an idea to do something "solo." The name was really simple, too... It's nothing about the place in Tunisia or from history: it just resonated like the word "haulage"... "carthage" was like a word I could see on the side of a truck, for some logistics company.
I did CARTHAGE live the first time as an opening act on tour... it was pretty stressful! One minute I was thinking how cool to do it live, but then when you have a room full of really surly metal people wanting their heads blasted off—which was the nature of the tour—and there I was playing lo-fi soundscapes and talking into a mic. You feel a different level of anxiety [laughs]. I would sit on a chair and recite some of the spoken word over soundscapes. Sounded good through a rock PA, though, and that always stuck with me.
In speaking of the range of the album's influences, something that piqued my curiosity in the promotional text was the statement that Midnight White is "essentially a pure 'love letter to 1981.'" Could you elaborate on that?
It's really been in my mind a lot, I guess. I really don't spend much time dwelling on the past, but it was sparked that it's soon 40 years since I saw the Faith tour from The Cure, the best gig I ever saw. But I started to ruminate on the killer era that was... bands like Japan, The Psychedelic Furs, The Birthday Party, Severed Heads, [Echo & The] Bunnymen, [Siouxsie and the] Banshees, Cabaret Voltaire, and all those—many of which I saw live... But with Midnight White, I felt I wanted to just do something, to get back into those venues, those pubs, those concert places. No sentimentality, nothing, just wanted to get some form of connection.
But I must say one thing: at that stage, no one knew it was the "'80s," as such.
What I mean is that all that decade-defining/decade-naming things came later. You didn't know what the decade was or was to become at all, so all this music was just there, in parts buoyant but sometimes very irritable and also very uncertain after punk. No one knew what was coming. Still loads of violence and weirdness at gigs. Loads of really bad commercial music on the radio and TV, some of the worst. Plus, to see the rise of no wave, stuff like Swans, and also the rise of hardcore was crazy in the early-'80s. The latter seemed to me to be worrying. Why? I grew up with surfer and skater culture and we all knew that in certain areas there was a culture of "locals." They were the people that owned the spot they surfed or skated, and it could be super aggressive. Intimidating, usually older people with issues. It permeated the gigs, too, and I was threatened a lot and weathered some really dismissive and aggro crowds... I played in a two-piece rock/metal band called Storm at the time—the first half of the '80s, mainly.
When I saw hardcore punk come up in the U.S., I felt it was this macho thing... almost like those aggressive locals suddenly had a voice and wanted to get rowdy and have a sweaty workout at the gigs. Really exclusively male, too. But it was also extremely exciting, as the punk devolution into second-wave punk like The Exploited was mostly horrific... so if the hardcore crew in part were gonna battle those arrogant, dead, old, spikey fashion punks then fuck yeah, bring it on. Plus, you had amazing energy from bands like Hüsker Dü, which used hyper velocity and power but had this awesome tender emotional edge... faster, meaner, but more lyrically articulate than anyone. I die for Zen Arcade and always will.
And here's the thing: not many forms of music have existed and continually evolved like hardcore, with always, always, always packed crowds... over decades now! "Post-hardcore," too: awesome, will listen every day. Best crowds.
But I don't want to go on like a voice droning on in a documentary. I hate all that.
Basically all the above was behind my sentiment: just a personal missive shot back to an uncertain time, the "love letter" part. It's all really crystal clear in my mind.
For The Cure influence, I wanted to tap into a simple synth sound that would be really nice in a venue, and with beats that [The Cure drummer/keyboardist] Lol Tolhurst may play or like, and that came out in "Cold Velocity."
The piece we'll be premiering is "Arclight," which you've cited as a personal favorite. Talk about why this particular track strikes you in a special manner.
It ties in with the above in sort of a post-punk, trash rock way, but the main thing was to depict a nocturnal chapter, a bit like something in a film, where you are in a completely contemporary setting on some street in the small hours, but the mind is elsewhere and displaced, and there's something unfolding as the night goes on. There's scenes in some arthouse films and in old crime noir films which actually freak me out, and that's from being a kid where you were seeing films that were from a different world, and maybe even the world of actual grandparents. So, "Arclight": it's sort of cinematic.
And about cinema, I always am a sucker for melancholic film music, too. Especially art films from the '60s to the '80s—I listen to the incidental music in films such as Withnail & I, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Midnight Cowboy, 8½, Little Murders, or Betty Blue and I just die.
If there was a set from someone of just that sound, I'd love it.
I will leave it up to people for the interpretation, but basically Daniela VK and I collaborated on the track to create something where, instead of just putting ambient noises and literal sounds of "night," we came up with the musical equivalents, whatever it took, to get into that shifting nighttime world.
You and Justin Broadrick go way back and have worked together on several occasions across a few decades, but how did it come about that Midnight White would be released through Avalanche Recordings? It's less common to see the Avalanche stamp on projects that are not Justin's own.
Justin and I always have a real shared passion for music and talking about it all, for decades, and this also connects to hip-hop and hardcore, not to mention material that is simply "check this out" of any genre, and it was purely something organically where an album was discussed really simply. I worked on it, as well as doing TRIAL and khost work, and would always delve into the "album" world at various times until March this year.
Apparently some of the Midnight White material had already been performed live in the early portion of 2020 before lockdowns ensued. I believe pandemic restrictions in the U.K. are going to start lifting more widely soon, so are any plans shaping up for future performances, etc.?
Yes, some of us played in Manchester really close to the "real" lockdown early in 2020... but something else: you felt venues were changing, and I feel that process will really impact hard over time. It's not just the pandemic... there's other factors that impacted music badly over time. I could talk all day.
Hope to get out and play this material, though, soon...
Midnight White will be out digitally on July 12 through Justin Broadrick's Avalanche Recordings. CDs should follow later this month. Find Damian B. on Twitter for information on assorted other projects...