An interview with Children on Stun

...we had an attitude and knew how to write great pop tunes...

Formed in Hastings, 1991, the ever-cheeky Children on Stun quickly rose to prominence by virtue of the fact they were the only Goth band, ever, to crack a smile. The fact that their live shows were a riotous frenzy of filth, fun and fury, with perhaps the odd-inflatable or ten thrown in, probably helped as well. A flurry of self-released demos soon followed, that soon saw the band signed; first to American label Cleopatra, and then to Swedish label M&A Musicart. Success wasn’t without its hiccups, and just seven short years later, the band imploded following a final gig at Camden’s Underworld, a momentous event that would be captured for posterity on the ‘Seven Year Itch’ live album. Earlier this year, word emerged from darkest Sussex, of ‘Celebration’, a one-off event to be held in London, on Friday 15th May, that would see guitarist Simon Manning, vocalist Neil Ash and bassist Kyle Whipp sharing the stage once more. Legendary times indeed, and FractureZine were bold enough to track down their elusive (we say that, we really found him by searching on Facebook) guitarist for a few words…

Hi Simon, what have you been up to since Stun's last gig?

Since the last Stun gig I’ve personally gone through a nervous breakdown. I then formed the band Spares which released three albums and played a few times at the Whitby Goth festival. I also joined a band with ex-stun guitarist Pete (Finnemore) called Grooving In Green. We toured Europe and the UK, and also released a couple of albums and singles. I then lived in Sweden for six months and played with Vendemmian on bass, as well as playing live with an electronic band called Day In A Decade. There’s also been the day to day stuff, as well as getting married.

What prompted this reformation? And was it always going to be yourself, Neil and Kyle, or was Pete ever in the frame to return for the show?

Well I did a post on Facebook last September about a bucket list and what I’d like to do. One of them was reforming the Stun with myself, Neil and Kyle. Pete was never in the frame to be honest as we’ve all lost contact, while I’m still friends with the other guys. The feedback was impressive so the guys said yes to the reformation.

How are rehearsals going?

Rehearsals are going good. It’s amazing how much we all remember after 17 years of not performing together. We have a set of 15 songs, and all but two of them are sounding really good, we get together a couple of times a week and rock out.

How have you guys been getting on post-Stun? Obviously Neil and Kyle play together (oo-er) in The Stripper Project, but you all seem to not hate each other, thankfully...

We’ve had our ups and downs over the years, but let’s just say that there’s still some bad blood boiling over with various people and issues.

Describe your bandmates in five words or less, no swears allowed.

Kyle’s a family man, Neil is eccentric and driven, Pete is angry but determined, and myself, I’m slightly crazed.

What are your memories of the last Stun gig? Any songs that you wished you had played?

I don’t really have any memories of the last Stun gig as I was ill at the time, but I do remember it being a very sad occasion for us all. I think the set at the time was one we had been playing and included old and new tracks and faves from the past.

What are your thoughts regarding the final months of all things Children on Stun? It seemed that things within the band became somewhat... chaotic, if that's a fair assertion?

I think things generally fell apart both musically and friendship wise I wasn’t in a good place mentally and the other guys had shit going on in their lives as well, after seven years of constant touring and releasing records, socialising and the lifestyle, something had to give and that was the Stun.

Any regrets?

Yes there is. We had a fourth album written and a record deal signed with Resurrection Records, the next step was almost there for us but it would have been different musically, which meant we may have lost a lot of the Goth following but in the big picture made bigger strides in the music industry.

I know you previously gave away a load of the old demo tracks as free downloads, are there any plans to this again, or to re-issue the long out of print releases?

Probably not, no. Quite a few of the tracks can be found on YouTube and some of the CD releases can still be purchased through various online stores. We have talked about releasing a re-recording of a track we wrote toward the end of the Stun, but I suppose we will have to see if that happens in the future.

How do you view the changes within the UK alterna-scene and the music industry in general, from back in the day to now?

Well obviously it’s a lot easier with the world web and e-mails etc to arrange and promote yourselves, all we had was the phone and fanzines to get our name about and to arrange tours, so i think bands have it a lot easier nowadays, but that’s a good thing in my eyes. Alternative scene wise the only band I really admire is a band called The Last Cry, otherwise it’s still retro bands like The Mission and The Neff for me to see live.

Why do you think Stun endure to this day and how do you think the band would fare had they emerged in this digital age rather than the dark, pre-internet times?

I think because we were different, we had an attitude and knew how to write great pop tunes in the alternative scene. Also we had no egos and loved our support and the fans we gained over the years, especially in the UK. Digital-wise I think the band's music would obviously been herd by many more worldwide than back in the virtual dark ages.

Children on Stun were embraced very quickly by the UK and global Goth community - Did this help or hinder the band, and how vital was (underground UK magazine) Lowlife to the success of Children On Stun?

Lowlife was run by a couple of dear friends one of which unfortunately died, and the other who still lives locally and has been involved with artwork while i was in Grooving in Green. No, I don’t think our early success hindered the band, it just made us want to be better, and to write good songs and perform mainly chaotic gigs.

What does Children on Stun mean to you?

Well I can’t speak for the others but Goth really we started in 1991, and all grew up with the classic bands and just wanted to play music and sell some cassettes back in those days. Although we always had fun, we were actually very serious about the music side of things.

And what are each of your favourite Children on Stun war stories?

Well my favourite story is one of playing Oslo in Norway back in 1995. We had a free bar, which bearing in mind back then a pint was about £7, which we drunk dry, Neil was pissed walking around outside in the city centre, Kyle was on the floor drunk with a man dressed up as a monk trying to sort him out. Our roadie was trying some moves on a Norwegian girl and our record label boss, Andreas, came across to me and asked if I could sort it all out, as it was getting out of hand. I did of, course, and we played in Sweden the following day be it with sore heads.

After Celebration, will this be the end for Children On Stun, or will there be another gig 15/20 years down the line?

Well personally, and its only from me this answer, after all the work we have put into this reformation, I would like us to see if we could play at least once a year or maybe just a couple more times. Mind you, if it all ended after this show then I think that it would also lay some ghosts to rest for us all.

Written by Ian Faith, 2015-04-10

From punk rock to electro with Tommie Riot of Rifle

What I'm trying to express is human emotion. All the lyrics are about human emotion and it's often about bad things or hurtful things. Everything I write about has happened in some way but, I'm one of those guys that cant write when I'm depressed. I can't write anything. And I don't write when I'm in a really good mood either.

Recently FractureZine caught up with punk rock drummer now front man of Stockholm based electronic outfit Rifle, Tommie Riot. We talk about his transition from drummer to front man, what influences and motivates him, the importance of being a believable front man and get to know a bit more about the band Rifle.

From punk rock drummer to EBM singer, can you explain how this came about?

First off, I would not consider us to be EBM at all, although there might be elements of EBM in our music. I think you don't really have a lot of melody in EBM. It's rhythm based and pretty repetitive. I'm not especially fond of EBM although I like Nitzer Ebb, That Total Age is a great album but to me it's more of a punk album because it's so in your face. I like stuff like Yazoo and Erasure because I'm always about the melody. I love melodies. That's what we're trying to do with Rifle.

How did Rifle come together?

I was a drummer in a band, I quit and needed to do something else, get away for awhile. I had these songs, I didn't really know what to do with them because I didn't want to start up a new band and go down and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. It was kind of a fluke. I just asked Calle if he thought he could do anything with them. He was quite skeptical at first. He was like, I don't know and blah blah blah because he never used to work in this fashion, having the songs structured first. I gave him one song and it worked out so good that we just kept going.

Can you tell us about the purpose of Rifle?

What I'm trying to express is human emotion. All the lyrics are about human emotion and it's often about bad things or hurtful things. Everything I write about has happened in some way but, I'm one of those guys that cant write when I'm depressed. I can't write anything. And I don't write when I'm in a really good mood either. If I've been pretty down for a while and then can look at it from the outside, then I can write about how I felt. I find it harder to write about how I feel at the time. It's easier when I can look back at it. I don't use writing as therapy as a lot of people do. Like, oh I feel bad and start scribbling... maybe it is some kind of therapy. I don't know but, I write when I'm ready and gone past it. When we perform I want people to feel how I felt, not that I want them to feel like shit [laughs] I want them to understand the place where it all comes from and maybe they've been there themselves.

When Rifle performed a while back at KGB there was a huge amount of energy. You were climbing up and down from the balcony while singing. This is quite a contrast with a lot of electronic acts. Do you have a lot of excess energy because you're not using it on a drum kit?

No that's just me. I don't think I would be able to perform music that I don't feel passionately about. That's just how I do it, I do it in the studio as well. It's the same as when I play the drums. I don't just sit there and play the beat.

Did you start off as a drummer, guitarist or vocalist?

As a drummer. I've never done vocals in any band before this although I've always written lyrics.

How did you find the transition to vocals, was it difficult?

I've always been singing and playing the guitar at home but, not in a band. I would call it stressful [laughs].

What's stressful about being a singer?

I still think it's out of my comfort zone. It's positive stress. You need to be on edge all the time and really focus. I wouldn't say I have stage fright but, I hate the 10, 15 minutes before I go on stage. I get intense and start pacing.

How does that change when you start performing?

It's almost like it becomes theatre. It's a role that you play but, it's still you. It's not like putting on an act, it's like you playing you if you know what I mean.

Can you tell us a bit about how the music is put together?

I record guitars and vocals to a click track then send them over to Calle. He then sends me a programmed version based off the feel that he gets from what I've sent him. He usually gets what I'm aiming for. We discuss it, like can we tweak this or can we do that.

So Calle handles the programming?

Yeah, he actually knows what he's doing [laughs]. If we were a rock band I would give him a bit more direction because I know rock'n'roll. He knows his synthesizers so there's no reason to give to much direction. He enjoys programming and I don't. If I were to sit down and do drum programming ,that would bore the hell out of me because I know that I can play it in 5 minutes and have it done. I don't have the patience to program it.

Is Rifle a two person project?

We also have a guitar player. He's the guy that comes up with certain guitar parts and stuff but he comes in at a later stage after we've finish the song with everything that is supposed to be in it. It makes quite a difference for the songs. If you listen to them without the guitar there's something missing.

Do you miss the spontaneity of playing rock with Rifle?

No not really, I think Rifle is spontaneous in it's own way. We have different arrangements for the live performances than we do for our recordings and we try to play as many things live as possible. We also have a song that we play totally live with no sequencing at all. The arrangement of the songs doesn't always have to be the spontaneity of it though. There are so many things that can be spontaneous during a live gig. You never know what's going to happen.

We did this festival gig. Us and a bunch of metal bands. As we were going up on stage we hear "Ah, they don't even having a fucking drummer" [laughs] and then you have to work, you really have to work. When you are in that kind of environment and they're not into electronic music, synth music, and all these metal bands are playing. You have to work, work work because if you let them go they'll just be like "This is boring". It took us a few songs before we got everyone going, I was all over the place, climbing up to the lighting rig. Then I busted my head. I didn't realise that the guitarist, Daniel, had moved and I just threw myself backwards, he was behind me, I whacked my head on his guitar and my head just started bleeding. It was a really fun gig.

So are you more into the idea of playing with rock or electro bands?

It doesn't matter to me. I think with the amount of energy that we produce on stage we can fit in with most bands. I want stuff to happen live right. It's not a matter of the style of music, it's do you believe what you see? You can play the hardest music and people still don't believe what you're trying to say, it's like it's nothing. That's why I think in some cases a guy like Johnny Cash is heavier than some guy slapping on corpse paint that is not believable, you know what I mean.

Would you say that the connection with the audience is paramount for you?

Yeah. I also like the challenge of when people hear the term electro. They get an image in their head of what to expect and I want them to be like whoa! This is not what I expected [laughs] in a positive way that is.

Do you think in the future we'll see things changed up with Rifle to keep this element of the unexpected continuing?

I don't how long you can be unexpected. If they've seen you once then they have expectation. Then the question is how far can you take it and what can you do to push boundaries. It's not like I'm going to be the next GG Alin but, I'm always going to give my all. That's what I do, I don't know how to tone it down.

So if we continue with GG Allin comment, who are your heroes?

Lemmy, definitely. When I was 5 years old my neighbor gave me a cassette with AC/DC's Highway To Hell on one side and Motörhead's Bomber on the other.

How has that influenced your music over the years?

That's a tough question. I like a lot of music. I don't consider myself to be a punk or a metal head or a synth electro guy or whatever. When I listen to music I listen to a lot of different stuff but what I always come back to is the melody. I always look for that edge, the ones that make me feel like they really mean something. When I listen to AC/DC a lot of their lyrics are about sex and picking up girls. When I listen to Bon Scott and the way he sings it, it's like it's the most important thing in the world. It's like fuck everything else, this is what matters. I think it's quite impressive to make something so trivial sound that important.

Would you go so far as to say that it's import that music is genuine and honest?

I don't really want to over analyze it, I just know how I feel now. I love Springsteen, Townes Van Zandt, Johnny Cash. With Johnny Cash even the songs he didn't write himself, they still sound believable. When he did that Nine Inch Nails song Hurt, it became his song. When Johnny Cash sings it, the lyrics get a whole new meaning compared to when Trent Reznor sings it. I think it's impressive to be able to do that.

So I've heard some tracks from you guys, when do we expect a release?

Not sure but, we have two tracks online. The album is fairly finished, I guess we'll see.

Where can people check out what's happening with Rifle?

Our Facebook page is a good place to start.

So what's in the future for Rifle?

We'll see [laughs].

Written by William Riever, 2015-01-11

Speaking with August Skipper of Ascetic

The things that you learn when you are searching so hard like that for personal meaning on a very human scale, there's a threshold you get through where there is this sort of "ah huh!" moment.

While at WGT 2014 FractureZine were lucky enough to catch up with August Skipper the singer of new wave experimental band Ascetic. The band hail from Melbourne, Australia but relocated to Berlin, Germany after their first European tour a little over a year ago. They describe themselves as drawing from a collective obsession with fringe philosophy and post new-age consciousness. Seeing the band in action on stage provides glimpses of The Birthday Party and Swans while on the musical front, a strong gothic experimental thread. Ascetic are without a doubt a great modern interpretation of the new wave sound.

Being the second time for Ascetic in Europe, can you describe how your first experience was?

The tour was a blast, we hadn't been over to Europe before but I felt like the tour was aimed at the wrong audience. It was really strange, we were playing in this post rock scene on tour with Heirs, another Australian band that Saxon and I both played in, it was their tour and Ascetic just tagged along. Heirs were transitioning from some sort of post rock thing to a gothic electronic sound but we still ended up playing to a predominately post rock crowd. Every show since that tour has been really nice because we've played small nights with an audience that is there to check out what's on that night.

What scene do you feel the band fits into?

I don't know really. I generally like music that is a bit darker than the norm. I would describe the music as kind of gothic to give people an indication of what we sound like.

I understand that the band is now semi resident in Berlin. When did this happen?

I've been here for just over a year on a working holiday visa. I actually have my arts visa application in 5 days. I'm a bit terrified, feeling confident but terrified [laughs].

Can you describe how the move from Australia to Germany has been?

We relocated to Berlin and just shot out a bunch of emails to whoever we could to see who was interested in having us. I was managing the bookings, managing them very poorly [laughs].

Life has been tough in Berlin. I've always been a bit low on funds but I must admit this is the deepest poverty that I've ever been swimming in. It's a tough existence, the pay is bad for shitty work. The more you work, the more you want to destroy yourself and the more you destroy yourself the less time you have but it's coming together slowly. I didn't quite realise the direct affect that living here would have on me, on us, Ascetic. Living here and taking in the music. It's a completely different culture. The hyper culture of nonstop twenty four seven, something to do, listen to, distract you, destroy you. It's all here. It doesn't take much, you can just open a door and you'll be taking a lot in. Coming from Australia where everything is 10 hours away it's incomparable. Everything is so close. Obviously I love it enough to continue here.

Ascetic have a great album out, Self Initiation. Was there any particular reason for releasing Self Initiation on vinyl?

Because we could [laughs]. I just like that it's an artefact like a stone or something. Saxon loves to say that his vision of a CD is something stomped on in the back seat of some ones car smashed into a million pieces [laughs].

There seems to be strong themes of self medication in the lyrics. Can you talk to us a bit about what is behind them?

In the last three years before I left Australia I went through a very intense time, I was very isolated. I guess it was a spiritual path in a sense. I was vegan and I was meditating a lot. I was sober but, experimenting with psychedelics as some sort of spiritual tool. It revealed a lot to me. The things that you learn when you are searching so hard like that for personal meaning on a very human scale, there's a threshold you get through where there's this sort of "ah huh!" moment. Things can fall into alignment and things seem to make sense. You see this beautiful vision of the structure of human culture in the scale of the universe. Then this threshold that you cross, you can see that and feel this moment of clarity and perfection. Then there is another pocket of information that comes after that which is utterly beguiling and overwhelming. Suddenly that clarity you had is shattered because this extra information makes everything confusing.

I guess with the notion of medication, it easy to see it just as a drug reference. It's not really what I intended it to be. It's more this notion of medicine, medication as a source of physical healing verses something beyond that. Whether it is learning a clearer way to see and live verses trying to build something physical that gives meaning to your life. Some sort of evolution of the mind.

How would you describe the purpose of Ascetic?

I've always liked the idea of transcendence, of music allowing you to escape your own personal boundaries even if it's just for a moment. It's certainly something that I've always been attracted to. Whether you achieve it or not is quite another question. I always want to lose myself on stage.

So what's next?

Just writing slowly. Gradually getting new songs into the set. We played a few new songs tonight. I can put a pitch out here. Basically if anyone is interested in putting out an album of ours, it would not take us long to put it together [laughs]. We've got songs ready, there's also a lot of ideas.

Written by William Riever, 2014-07-20