Imagine this. Born in dour post war Sheffield, you join one of pop histories most experimental bands while still in your early 20s. After almost ten years of making records that are one hand appealing and the other wildly experimental, you leave not only the band but the country, and go on to be highly influential in the beginnings of Techno, before making some incredible records under a variety of guises and with various collaborators. 30 years on, your musical creativity is still burning brightly.
In fact don’t imagine it. Read about it, here. Paul Browse went from Clock DVA to living in Germany, to recording with Timothy Leary, recording early Techno records, to embracing a whole gambit of electronic music. Now back in Sheffield but still making music, we spoke to him about an incredible journey.
Clock Dva – Buried Dreams
You were born and brought up in Sheffield, what was the city like then?
As a child I remember in the mornings it was always foggy. I’d often get lost on the way to school. In later life I’d often get lost on the way home from clubs ..but that had nothing to do with fog.
And your first musical experiences were being taught by Dr. Edward Williams. Was that traumatic?
Odd rather than traumatic. He used to have a habit of drifting off to sleep during my lesson ..which actually was a relief because when not sleeping he chain smoked Capstan Full Strength. I still go into a coughing fit if I hear any Burt Bacharach tunes played to a bossa nova beat on a Wurlitzer organ.
But you must have shown musical promise?
I did but I was a lazy student. Instead of practicing I spent my time searching for bass pedal combinations that would vibrate my mother’s ornaments off their glass display shelves. When the vases fell, the session was over.
And Sheffield had this rich tradition of electronic music with Cabaret Voltaire, Heaven 17, ABC as well as Clock DVA, Why was that?
I think there was something in the water.
And did you all know one another?
absolutely ..but convention meant that we couldn’t fraternise in public.
How did you come to join Clock DVA?
I just bumped into Adi and Judd on West Street one night and they told me there was a Dva gig scheduled and that they didn’t want to do it with the other Clocks and so asked me to step in. I was young and needed the attention and so I agreed. John Carruthers was brought in at short notice and a few days later we traveled down to Brighton along with Bob Baker (PTI) and played an improvised set.
What was your role in the band, and relationship with Adi Newton?
During the Polydor years, when we were a conventional set up, I played saxophones and occasional keyboards.Later, when we were more computer driven, I programmed.
Concerning my relationship with Adi ..from the very beginning there were certain aspects of his personality that I liked and other aspects that were less likeable. With the passing of time the less likeable elements overshadowed the likeable.
The band made influential, but not exactly commercial music – was that ever an issue, or were you as experimental in nature?
We were by nature experimental and in my opinion should have remained so. Unfortunately, in my opinion, there arose a drive from within the project to move in a more commercial direction.
It seems (although I may be wrong) that the band were forever on the cusp of good things (major label support/supporting an album) only to fall apart/split up? Why was this, and was it frustrating?
Too many egos pulling in different directions and too much animosity between band members. It wasn’t frustrating at the time because we all had our self-destruct knobs turned up to eleven.
What was touring like at this time, any memorable stories or bands you went on the road with?
Not really. On the last night of the European tour we ended up in a Rolling Stones video by mistake. That was also the night we split up.
And recording some of the most adventurous, avant-garde albums in popular music? I guess you are proud of that?
I love all my babies ..even the ugly ones.
Any albums from that period your most proud to have been a part of?
Perhaps Buried Dreams. It seems to have spoken to a lot of people.
And then, after Buried Dreams, you left and moved to Germany? Why was that?
The original idea was that we should all move to Berlin. Buried Dreams was released on a German label, all our financial support was coming from there and at that time Berlin was a very special city and so it made sense to be there. I went first, the idea being that the other guys should follow once accommodation etc. had been sorted out. Somewhere along the way the other guys changed their minds and so I had the decision to make of whether to return to England or start afresh in Berlin. I stayed.
Effective Force – Beyond Judgement
The music you made in Germany, tell us about some of the projects you set up/were involved with?
System 01 and Effective Force were projects I started with Johnny Klimek. They came into existence more of less simultaneously ..Effective Force releasing on MFS and System 01 on Tresor Rec. A little later came 030 and Holy Language, which were still Johnny and myself but with the addition of Dr. Motte. Sub D followed, which was Sven Roehrig (3Phase) and myself, and finally Visions of Excess came into being. Visions of Excess is current and was created by Nirto Karsten Fischer and myself.
Holy Language – Energy
You formed Effective Force/System 01 and practically invented Techno – Good memories of those times?
Very good memories. The wall had just come down and the city was on fire. Everyone was coming to visit Berlin and it was around this time that we (System 01) collaborated with Timothy Leary on the Psychedelics to cybernetics release.
System 01 feat. Timothy Leary – From Psychodelics to Cybermetics
How did you find Germany as a place to make music?
I can’t speak about the rest of Germany but Berlin gave me the feeling that time was no longer a hindrance but a means of making actual what was potential.
System 01 – Drugs work
Was that part of getting away and leaving clock dva – to have more control?
I am not a control freak. What I wanted was freedom from control and all the sickness that went/goes with it.
And then Visions of excess? How did that come about?
Nirto and I have known each other since the early nineties. We were introduced to each other by friends who were studying at the dffb. Eventually, we decided to do something together and Visions of Excess was born.
What was the thinking behind the music? A return to the past maybe?
In the words of Nirto: “Visions Of Excess is everything else than a “return to the past”. But we have roots. Paul is for example part of the ClockDVA history, I (Nirto Karsten Fischer) am coming from an experimental approach to music by building soundscapes. Sonically it was a perfect fit somehow. We share the interest in dark abysses of society and human life in general. Our music is a statement of experienced dichotomy. ‘Excesses’ can occur in several directions, good or evil and sometimes are both at the same time. We try to grab a moment of seeing thru the mud of pre-history. We add a layer of sonic sculpted time onto time as history to filter out our vision.”
What have you been doing musically since then? Can we expect any new music in the near future?
Definitely. And it will be mainly in surround but with a stereo downmix for regular playback. As a kind of teaser we have added a new track to the 2012 re-release of ‘Sensitive Disruption’: ‘The Cold Flame’. Nirto remixed this track completely in surround. We will begin in April (2013) with new sound researches and recordings.
And now you’re back in Sheffield, where it all started. How do you find the city now, since you’ve been away?
I like it a lot more than when I left.
Have you had anything to do with the Clock DVA reissues? I’m imagining maybe not.
There have been several reissues that didn’t have the consent of all those involved. The current attempt at a reissue has the approval of all those involved and a contract was signed with Mute quite a while ago.
And I guess no chance of Clock DVA getting back together with you involved?
I think you guess right.
What did you make of their festival appearance last year?
I just saw some clips on YouTube. I was slightly surprised to see that they were using tracks from the Buried Dreams era.
Any chance we may see some Effective force reissues?
Nothing in the pipeline for Effective Force or System 01 at the moment but the 030 and Holy Language albums will be re-release this year.
Are you surprised that your music is still talked about today?
I hope it is being talked about, seeing as VOE is current. Concerning my Sheffield related past, I have mixed emotions. That said, “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about …..”
With a Visions of Excess re-release on the horizon as well as being still ‘active’, along with the awaited Clock Dva re-releases on Mute, the creative and musical mind of Paul Browse also remains active. Long may that continue.