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Invisible Jukebox: Current 93

The unedited transcript of David Tibet of Current 93's Invisible Jukebox interview, tested by Mike Barnes. The Jukebox took place in Tibet's home in East London.

Current 93's David Tibet made his first mark in the 'Industrial' culture of the early 1980s even though the was skeptical of the Industrial formula equating inept noise with socially 'transgressive' acts. His early reading habits, which included a fascination with Aleister Crowley, seeded his interrogations of occult and official belief systems and their rituals, which have informed much of his work as Current 93. The name itself is a Crowleyan reference, being one of the many tenets of the Law of Thelema. He formed the group - briefly known as Dogs Blood Order - in 1982. The first Current 93 record proper was the 1983 single, "LAShTAL", which was followed by a series of dark loop/soundscape albums. Concurrent with Current 93's fledging years, Tibet was also briefly a member of Psychic TV. He participated in their first two albums. Plus the set of Tibetal thighbone trombone music included with early copies of PTV's 1982 debut Force The Hand Of Chance.

But his most significant meeting in this period was with Nurse With Wound's Steven Stapleton. Subsequently, Stapleton has contributed to virtually all Current 93's releases (already numbering more than 30 releases), while Tibet has appeared on almost all of Nurse With Wound's. Since 1986 Tibet has pursued an 'apocalyptic folk' direction, mixing traditional elements with more avant experimentation. Guided by his spiritual leanings and his esoteric tastes in music and literature, Current 93's body of work partly constitutes and idiosyncratic exploration of hidden or suppressed aspects of British history. Through his record label and publishing imprint Durtro, Tibet also champions outsider or overlooked artists he feels most passionate about, among them musicians as diverse as Shirley Collins, Tiny Tim and Nature And Organization, and writers such as Count Stenblock. The Jukebox took place at Tibet's home in East London.

"Sangwa Düpa" from Tibetan Buddhism: Tantras Of Gyütö (Elektra/Nonesuch) (1975)

Well it appears to me to be a Tibetan monastic ritual. My knowledge of Tibetan is not great but with a chant like this it's not easy to get any of the words anyway. But if I saw the text in Tibetan I could identify more easily the bodhisattva or the deity involved. It sounds more like it's going to be an earlier form of Tibetan Buddhism, so it might be Nyingmapa or it might even be Bonpo. But it sounds like it might be the Mahakala ritual or a protector deity ritual, it's got that darker nature. [Looks at CD] I actually have this on CD and vinyl. I was wrong - this is a Gelugpa one but it is a tantric ritual that comes from Padmasambhava's teaching, who was the founder of the Nyingmapa sect. It's the introductory part of the Mahakala ritual, Mahakala being a protector deity, a wrathful deity who crushes enemies of Buddhism.

MB: You went over to Nepal for a while to study Buddhism. What was it that drew you over there?

I was born in Malaysia so I was brought up in Asia and so I was really interested in Asian religion as a child. Then, when I was still in Malaysia, I got interested in Tibetan Buddhism because of Lobsang Rampa. He was a great introducer of Tibetan Buddhism to the west and he sold millions of books. He wrote a book called The Third Eye, which I think was his first book, where he claimed that he had an operation to open the third eye, the pineal gland. As his books got more and more outlandish - including a book that was written by his cat and transcribed by Lobsang Rampa - there was a good expose of him in Fortean Times. They discovered he was in fact a plumber who lived, I think, in the north of England called Cyril Henry Hoskins.

I think he had originally been a surgical truss salesman and became a plumber, so taking the mystic truss path, I became interested in Buddhism and I started learning classical Tibetan. You know how people always become interested in things that are foreign to their culture? Because I was surrounded by all the Indian deities they weren't exotic to me. So I became interested in two things: Tibetan Buddhism and Christianity. I spent time in Kathmandu and I studied Tibetan Buddhism under a lama, Chimed Rigdzin Lama Rinpoche who was a tantric master of the Nyingmapa sect, which was fundamentally the oldest branch of Tibetan Buddhism.

I released an album by him which was a solo Tibetan chant. The lineage that he was a member of were non-celibate and he was also a ferocious meat eater. I took him into record some tantric rituals. There's one called Chod. Originally this would be done sitting on top of a corpse in a graveyard. Chod is the Tibetan verb 'to cut' and the point of it was to surround yourself with terror and then to cut the ego; cut yourself up and reassemble yourself in a purer state.

He said, 'Can you go and get me a snack, David?' The engineer was a vegan and I'd earlier told him I'm bringing in a highly respected Buddhist lama chanting some of the truly important Buddhist rituals. I came back in with a blue plastic bag of raw steak that had been chopped into big cubes. So Rinpoche was there eating all this raw steak whilst blowing on a thighbone trumpet and banging a skull drum with blood trickling down his chin. I wish I had it on video.

MB: Do you think the repetitive incantations of these rituals might have informed or inspired some of Current 93's music?

The things that have moved me in music since being a kid have been simplicity and space. I never really got on with things that were complex or had fiddly instrumental passages. Early Current 93 stuff was very loop based. What we do now isn't. In the early stuff, what influenced me was the purity and simplicity of sound, and music also had to have a meaning. So groups like Uriah Heep or Vanilla Fudge or Iron Butterfly -who are one of my favourite groups ever - are in a different area. They are fantastic but their music don't move me emotionally. But things like this move me because they mean what they say - there is a belief structure, so it's not style, it's not image. In Gregorian chant, space is a lot more evident, whereas this is continual - there's not much true space but with the decline and ascent of the sound it's just full of space.

On the earlier (Current 93) albums I wasn't at all clear but I was still searching for clarity in repetition with something slightly changing over the top. I'm obviously not saying my music is like this but that is what I took from this. When we listen to music like this or Gregorian chant, which are both perfect examples of a belief system in sound, what we really need to listen to and try and understand is the words and not look at them as just purely minimal acoustic tourism.

WHITEHOUSE "Shitfun" from Anthology 1, Come Organisation Archives 1979-81 (Susan Lawly) (track is 1981) not sure when the compilation was released

Oh, Whitehouse. Erector? It's certainly one of their earlier ones. I'll get it when the singing comes in. [Distorted howling commences] it's "Shitfun", [originally] from Erector. I thought you were going to play me a track by Whitehouse. When I was at university I was really interested in Nurse with Wound and Whitehouse, who were seen as having some symbiotic connections. William Bennett [of Whitehouse] and I used to be good friends. The last time I saw him was outside an Arthur Lee/Love show and I haven't spoken to him for seven or eight years. Again, this had an incredible simplicity of sound and an incredible venom. It's really disturbing music with so little; just an effected voice and high and low frequencies and space to make such an impressive, unnerving sound. I actually think it was quite subtly put together compared to recent examples of total machine noise. Could you turn it down a bit? The cats get unnerved by it, the high frequencies get them.

MB: Whitehouse were arguably the most extreme manifestation of the early 80s industrial culture, brutal in their sound and imagery. Do you think that the confrontational aspect of the group was perhaps more important than the aesthetics of the music itself?

Obviously the person to answer that would be William. His aesthetic guided everything. He really would concentrate with great care on anything he did, from flyers, album design, live shows, even the pressing plant. I remember one of his early texts was: 'The listener to this album will experience the most extreme reaction possible because this is the most brutal and extreme music of all time.' He saw himself as being willing to push everyone's reactions to the extreme - including his own - so he did that with brutal, unpleasant imagery and sound. He would also say that he came from a completely libertarian perspective, so some people thought that he was extreme right wing. But I knew him well and as far as I knew him, that wasn't the case. He was an expert on De Sade, an expert on Roman decadence, a very, very intelligent and educated man.

There were obviously a lot of groups who came after Whitehouse and just did the shock tactics. It was just basically how much outrage can we throw? That was really tedious. But I think William and his project, it was a super-personal thing. His message was breaking every possible personal boundary, doing what he wanted irrespective of whatever people's reaction would be. He followed his own star and was never bothered that magazines wouldn't do an interview with him, or that he might get banned from various things. He had absolutely no sense of compromise.

MB: Although Bennett is still active as Whitehouse, I associate this type of expression with younger people expurgating something from their system.

With some people it was just the exuberance of youth and now they are working in regular jobs or they've got families or whatever. I suppose that sense of extremity while you're young is quite attractive. My concerns were always almost 100 per cent religious, my own religious beliefs and obsessions. So although I got caught up in a bit of that rule free fervour, the Current records were never like that.

At the time [in the early 80s] it was really exciting going to see Whitehouse play for 15 minutes then seeing the police dragging the audience away. They did an amazing show at a place called the Roebuck. [Nurse With Wound's] Steve Stapleton knew the form and when to get out before the blood started to flow, but even he had a glass thrown at his face and had to go to hospital. The landlord had booked the venue to Whitehouse on the basis that they were a folk group. The police all arrived and the landlord burst into the room and said "you fucking bastards I'm going to kill you". The police were going, to the landlord, "cut out that language, son". I've never seen so much violence at a show.

I know that John Fothergill of United Dairies records - who was then living with his parents made the mistake of putting his address on the sleeve of the label's first release, Nurse With Wound's Chance Meeting On A Dissecting Table Of A Sewing Machine And an Umbrella (79). He was shocked by the sort of people that turned up on the doorstep.

That was due to Steve's [fetishistic, S&M flavoured] album cover. If you listen to the music it wasn't S&M music it was fractured, surrealist improv. He put his address on and Steve Stapleton put his parents' address on. William from Whitehouse was also using Steve's address early on for his Come Organisation and Steve's mum had enough of it when someone posted a shit. It wasn't an insulting shit, it was meant as 'I'm as weird as you, let's bond over this turd'. We never give our home addresses out now [laughs].

WILLIAM LAWES "Pavan" from Consort Sett a 5 in F Major. From For Ye Violls by Fretwork (Virgin Classics) (1991)

John Dowland, "Flow My Tears". Not it's William Lawes, the opening phrase is very similar, it quotes it. Is this Fretwork playing? Is if from For Ye Violls? I would say he's my favourite composer of all time, but it's so difficult: Gesualdo, can you compare them? [Tibet plays Dowland's "Flow My Tears" to illustrate the point]. "Flow My Tears" is one of the greatest songs, in my opinion, ever written. Lawes was a partisan of Charles I during the civil war. He was killed at the siege of Chester by a stray musket ball and Charles I, who himself was a great viol player, wept.

With Lawes, for me, there is such a terrible sense of yearning in his music. This is the death knell of a certain England. It's so stately and melancholy. If you listen to Purcell who came later, listen to his funeral music it's solemn it's funereal, but this is just the most autumnal music I've ever heard. It's pervaded by a sense of absolute transience - it's so timeless it could be written now. In its transience is its mortality. Which sounds really pat and clichéd. It's just nobody wrote music like Lawes. I did an album called Of Ruine Or Some Blazing Starre [94] and I was obsessed by three figures: William Lawes, Louis Wain the Edwardian cat artist who went insane and died in the asylum and Charles Sims who was an Edwardian society painter. His son died in the great war and he started having hallucinations and doing these bizarre and terrifying Blakean spirituals as he called them.

MB: I gather that one of your favourite albums is Anthems In Eden by Shirley And Dolly Collins which was groundbreaking in its day for featuring the Consort Of Music bringing early music instruments to English folk. How did your interest in these areas develop?

They came separately. The person who introduced me to Shirley's music was Savage Pencil [Edwin Pouncey]. He just said to me, 'you'll like this, Tibet', because my interests were in folk stories, fairy tales. It was the time when my music was becoming a lot less the loop atmospheric thing and moving to a simpler form. I'm really obsessive so I got absolutely everything. That made me investigate other folk music. Shirley is beyond folk, it's more than that. She's like the presiding spiritual genius of folk to me, of that whole area. There's nobody who comes close to her. Anne Briggs I like a lot but Shirley...the artists I most admire I felt like they were manifestations of God, not an incarnation, but a particularly pure manifestation of the purest art possible. It was totally unmannered, there was never any pretence in her voice. She sang as she thought, as she felt. Put a pair of lips on the heart and that's what Shirley sounded like.

My accountant, Paul Cheshire is an expert on Milton and a great fan of Renaissance music and knowing my emotional and religious interests suggested William Lawes. I was already very fond of Dowland and the Carolingian English mystical poets like Henry Vaughan, Crashaw, George Herbert, so Lawes fitted absolutely into that emotive realm. I got to meet Shirley - the continuation of the obsession is to actually meet the people that I idolise - I did the same with Tiny Tim when I became obsessed by him and then got to release a couple of Shirley's albums on Durtro. Lawes unfortunately I can't get to meet and couldn't afford to get a full renaissance ensemble into the studio.

MB: It's interesting that your recent music carries an obvious folk influence but you aren't necessarily interested in the genre as a whole.

It's partially that, but I tend to be influenced by people whose art is their life. It wasn't folk music that influenced me it was the aesthetic area around folk - the simplicity and purity of narration, arrangement. The emotions involved are the profound ones: jealousy, betrayal, murder, lust, searching for God, the timeless themes, but put in a way without theological speculation or psychological speculation.

HILMAR ÖRN HILMARSSON & SIGUR RÓS "Aõflug/Draumur" from Englar Alheimsins (Krúnk)...no date.

I'm sure I know who it is. Are there any vocals on it?

MB: No

If it doesn't have any vocals I'm doomed. The initial part I thought I recognised now I've lost the thread. It sounds like film music to me.

MB: It is a soundtrack.

It's not Don't Look Now is it? I didn't think it was. Was this a hit as an album?

MB: It's not a big film but you know the person who wrote the music, augmented here by a group

It's not Graeme Revell? It doesn't sound like him. What country are they from?

MB: Iceland

Ah well then, it's Hilmar Örn Hilmarrson. Is it Children of Nature?

It's Angels Of The Universe.

You see I haven't heard that and I haven't heard Sigur Rós. He's an old friend of mine but he promises to send me the albums and they never arrive. Not that long ago Hilmar rang me and said, 'I'm going to send you this album, it's me working with Sigur Rós. So blame him for that. Now I've got one wrong and it's Hilmar's fault. But it's got that simplicity and emotive touch that Hilmar does so well. The only one I've got by him is Children Of Nature, but he used on that some of the music that he and I did together for an album called Island [the Icelandic name for Iceland]. It's very Hilmar-ish now that I hear it. I hardly ever watch films. Spinal Tap, I know the soundtrack of that and Jesus Christ Superstar, which is another of my favourite films.

As Current 93 With Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson we did a 12" EP called Crowleymass [87] which was a pisstake of Crowley and Crowley worshippers. It was a disco thing. We always got so many letters from people saying things like, 'You're into Crowley, can you show us how to join an organisation that will give us Power' - with a capital 'P' of course - and Magick this, Magick that. It was really pretty tedious. So we did a disco tribute to Crowley which backfired cos we started to get even more letters saying , 'How cunning of you to use the pop disco dance form to spread the great beast's ideas'.

MB: Did your cross paths with Hilmarrson in Psychic TV?

No. I was there during the recording of the first album and jumped ship during the recording of the second album and Hilmar joined about a year later. The person that actually introduced me to Hilmar was Rose McDowell from Strawberry Switchblade who has worked with Current. She met Hilmar through the Psychic TV connection as she was still doing on/off stuff with Gen [esis P.Orridge].

MB: What did you play in Psychic TV?

I can't really play anything. I played thighbone trumpet - anyone can play thighbone trumpet. You just purse your lips. I'd met P.Orridge before at a couple of his shows with Throbbing Gristle and he asked me to come over and we became friendly again. I was in that circle when PTV was formed and Thee Temple Ov Psychik Youth was being built up, then I left pretty quickly. I haven't seen him for 15 or 16 years. A lot of interesting people met up in that [PTV] circle - that's when I met [John Balance] from Coil and Sleazy [Pete Christopherson] from Coil through PTV - I met Rose through that. Balance still works on a lot of Current albums. It was an odd area and an odd time. It was something I'm always fairly reticent to speak about. Some of it was really good, some of it was really not at all good but it was an interesting and instructive period ...[laughs] You had to have been there. Generally it defies description...

MB: The mind boggles.

It did indeed. Lots of things boggled - some of those things haven't stopped boggling.

CHARLEY PATTON "Prayer Of Death Part 1" from Screamin' And Hollerin' The Blues (Revenant) (Summer 2001)

I'm better on the gospel, than this. At first I thought it was Charley Patton... but it's not?

MB: It is Charley Patton

Oh fuck. At first I thought it's Charley Patton, it's Charley Patton, but his voice isn't normally quite as high as this, it's normally a bit more slurred.... It's Charley Patton! I was thinking, it's not Blind Lemon Jefferson and it's not Leadbelly [distracted by music] beautiful. My real favourite in this area of blues/gospel/raw Americana is Blind Willie Johnson. I do tend to prefer ones with a religious feel like [Johnson's] "I'm Going To Run To The City Of Refuge", that's absolutely stunning.

MB: The feeling of transience you mentioned in the music of Lawes, manifests itself in the blues in a different way.

It's life absolutely on the edge and judgement just around the corner. It's certainly something that's been at then forefront of my own thinking. Specifically for me it's not just mortality it's judgement, cos I think we are all judged by God. If you were going to draw a trite difference between blues and early gospel, the blues tend to be connected with the problems of the here and now, whereas gospel deals with the problems of the hereafter. But they both do dwell with the problems of the unrighteous. And the people who sing the blues were very much in the position of being trampled down by the un-righteous. Mortality and judgement, for me they are two things that human beings should constantly consider.

Also the important thing that penetrates all of that music is the chance of forgiveness is constantly there. There's no point saying, well 'I've been a bad boy I'm fucked'. You can always turn over that leaf and that forgiveness in the context of their belief is always there for them, no matter how evil or amoral you have been.

The blues is always about people being smashed down by landowners, drink, whatever and getting up again. Even with Charley Patton's "Oh Death", the blues are always about defiance, not resignation. It's the sound of someone being kicked in the face a thousand times and is still saying I'm going to get up, it's another new day and I love that. It's like those dolls which bounce back that kids play with. If you eventually kick the fuck out of them, then of course they won't come back up, but it takes a lot.

KEVIN AYERS "Ole Oleh Bandu Bandong" from Joy Of A Toy (Beat Goes On) 1969

I know this. It's not Charley Patton. Kevin Ayers. They're singing in Malay.

MB: I've always wondered what it meant. Do you know?

My Malay is hopeless now. I showed it to my dad, who has departed now. He said it might be Indonesian which is similar to Malay. I showed it to my mum and she didn't know and her Malay is good. This is on Joy Of A Toy. The one I really like by Kevin Ayers is "Lady Rachel" which is on this album and from Whatevershebringswesing, "Song From The Bottom Of A Well". This is a song I really like, i like the guitar in it but my only problem when I listen to it is I think, 'What the fuck are they saying. Why couldn't my dad get that Malay dialect?' I'm sure I've got a Malay midget gem dictionary. Maybe I should go find it afterwards. I don't know much of Ayers' work after Confessions Of Doctor Dream. Sweet Deceiver I had, but there was a slight reggae tilt that started coming into the albums which made me hotfoot it.

MB: It was bit fake.

"Caribbean Moon" reminded me of Typically Tropical - do you remember that "Oh, I'm going to Barbados" I think Kevin Ayers was doing it as a Jamaican skit. Led Zeppelin did that as well with "D'yer Make 'Er" ... which I used to like. When I realised it was actually my favourite track on Houses Of The Holy I started going elsewhere for rock thrills.

MB: We were wondering if you liked this turn of the decade English underground stuff typified by the Harvest label?

Pete Brown's Piblokto, Quatermass, Tea And Symphony...

MB: The Edgar Broughton Band?

I quite liked the early Edgar Broughton Band. Third Ear Band, my favourite album was Macbeth and my favourite track on that album is that vocal track [Fleance, with vocals by the young Keith Chegwin]. Steve Stapleton is a big fan of the Third Ear Band. They were a band I liked the idea of but the music is a bit too frenetic There is underground wig out stuff I liked from the 70s but again they had to be more spacious. Some of the German bands I like a lot like Sand, Alcatraz, Anima, Mahogany Brain from France. they were really great. Do you know that English underground band Comus? The darkest, most acidic and frightening acid folk album ever made, First Utterance. They were a big influence on me. It's a really disturbing album.

JACK SMITH featuring MARIO MONTEZ "Silent Shadows On Cinemaroc Island" from Silent Shadows On Cinemaroc Island: 56 Ludlow Street 1962-1964 (Table Of the Elements) 1964, released 1997

I haven't got a clue what it is but I immediately think it could be Timothy Leary. Could it be Angus Maclise, something like that?

MB: Getting close.

New York underground? [Tony] Conrad-y?

MB: Conrad and Cale play on it. In fact it's part of Tony Conrad's Audio Artkive series.

You can hear Conrad and Cale noises. The guy [reciter] I can't identify cos he's trying to sound like a groovy cat. Who is the guy?

Jack Smith, film maker and proto-performance artist.

Oh, right, Flaming Creatures [Smith's banned 1963 film]. This general New York underground era: I know people are fascinated by it but it never did it for me. Even the Velvet Underground I never liked. I like Nico a lot, her solo albums and the bits where she sang on The Velvet Underground. My favourite out of that whole New York minimalist arty area is Charlemagne Palestine. I love his music and we put out an album by him on my label. This area is historically interesting and I can see why people are fascinated in it but it's not really for me.

MB: Some of your own music employs recitation

What I'm doing, I'm aware people think it's a narrative but in my way I'm singing. It's a delivery. I certainly wouldn't say I was doing this, which is just a straight narrative which doesn't ride... there's not really music for it to fit in with. I've done a couple of things like that. I've done an album called I Have A Special Plan For This World where the text was written by a really well known American horror writer called Thomas Lugotti and I read that over fractured music done by me and Steve.

There was a lot of treatment on the voice, we were using extraneous clicks and effects so in that way the voice, although it was recognisably saying words, was still being used as an instrument, so it wasn't a straight narrative, it was an instrument with a narrative force. Maybe a bit like when [Peter] Frampton used to do "Show Me The Way", so it was guitar but it was his voice.

MB: Your big influence revealed.

I didn't like him but I remember a kid at school saying 'Have you been hit by the Frampers Phenomenon yet?' I thought, if it's called the 'Frampers Phenomenon', even if it's good, I really don't want to be part of it.

ANIMA-SOUND "N Da Da Uum Da" from Musik Für Alle (Alga Marghen) (1971)

Is this Anima? I like Anima a lot. I can't think what it is. I don't think it's Stürmischer Himmel which is my favourite. Is it Anima-Sound? A friend of mine, Christoph Heeman, has released solo albums by Limpe Fuchs. I was introduced to Anima's music by Steve [Stapleton] and Steve's main interest was krautrock, the whole range of it. He used to play me a lot of stuff, nearly all of which I hated because it was hairies going insane on soloing with Marxist dialectic over the top, which sent me crying and running to the toilet.

But Anima, there's so much space in it, it's acoustic and it's really sincere. I play this to people and they say it shouldn't like it because it doesn't fit in with other things I tend to like. But I thought they were really catchy they did have a pop sensibility. In a way. It's very simple, really quite inspired. They travelled around in a little bus to play shows, didn't they? It's not a kind of music I play a lot but I do when my girlfriend is out of the house.

MB: You mentioned Sand earlier. I'm not familiar with their music.

Sand are a fairly obscure Krautrock group. Steve played it to me and I became obsessed with it. Very spacey, melancholy, brooding album, but spacey without being Cosmic - which is quite rare in krautrock. It's bass, drums and vocals really. It's a really extraordinary record. We tracked them down and released the album That's my favourite German album of all time. Thirsty Moon are a group I like a lot and Alcatraz, as I mentioned before: Vampire State Building is a great record. Cosmic's fine but it's difficult to do really well and [Tangerine Dream's] Zeit for me, that was the ultimate. That and also Nosferatu, the Popul Vuh soundtrack. That's not cosmic in the same way but it's got a trippy feel to it.

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