Martin Bowes of long-running band Attrition spoke to Girl the Goth on the first trip to Ireland.
Martin Bowes has been at this for a long time. Attrition began
making their particular blend of strange noises in the early '80s,
around the same time as Bauhaus and the Virgin Prunes. Unlike their
contemporaries, Attrition never disintegrated in a blaze of
"artistic differences" or "personality clashes", however, neither
did they reach the heights reserved for other more durable bands
like the Fields of the Nephilim or the Sisters of Mercy. Instead,
Martin has kept Attrition going underground, releasing 11 albums in
17 years (first exclusively in Europe, and recently in the US too)
and continues to play clubs all over the world.
This level of commitment is a rare thing indeed, and many wonder
how he's managed to keep doing it for so long without achieving the
trappings of fame and fortune normally associated with the music
biz. Martin has a simple answer to such questions.
"I still love doin' it. If I didn't love it anymore, I'd just
Despite their relative lack of success, the band's longevity, the
quality of their music not withstanding, has earned them a lot of
respect on the current Goth scene. Goth clubs are delighted to have
a band that is regarded as "originals" play. But, this was not the
case when the band started out.
"At first, there wasn't the same sort of scene and we were in
more of an 'industrial' thing. There was nothing like the clubs you
get now, it was actually quite difficult to play anywhere that would
appreciate you. It's a lot easier now, it's not just Goth, it's a
mix - Darkwave or whatever. That's gotten stronger, so that has
helped, but really, we were there before it was built."
He credits the influence of the German scene for the broadening
of the tastes of Goth scenes all over; saying that originally Goth
was more centred on the Sisters of Mercy and guitar stuff. He said
that that the electronic influence from Germany, which kicked in as
the original Goth scene was dying down, led to Attrition being
adopted by the new scene. However, he points out that it was never
their intention to start a Goth band and he is wary of the tag.
"People ask us to play festivals and things and obviously I'm
happy if they're into it. But, it's not just what we're about.
People do compare us to other people, saying 'That sounds like
Orbital' or something. That's a bigger scene and I am a bit
conscious of that. I don't wanna just be, and I don't think we are
just seen as, Goth. It can get a little bit ghettoised if you
include yourself in just one small scene. If that goes down, you go
down with it. I'm conscious of just being Attrition."
One relatively recent event that has really improved the band's
prospects was their signing a deal in the US with Projekt. They
signed the deal in '96 after a few years in contact with the label,
which reissued a lot of early Attrition material. However, the deal
was not without its own problems.
"Soon as we signed with them, we got over to do our first US
tour. We've done 3 now, which really helped. If you haven't got a
label over there, you can't get over to do it, as you need the
support. The negative side of that was, for a while, we didn't have
a label here, so our stuff got harder to get. We could still play,
but it got more difficult for us for a year or two. But, we've
signed with Trinity in Germany, so that's workin' out OK now."
Martin is well aware of the huge growth in popularity of
Gothic/industrial related music in the States, and they are well
placed to take advantage of it on Projekt, one of the more
well-known US labels. He's not sure, though, whether the boom shows
real interest in the music, or is simply a fad.
"They're always a bit slower for things to catch on in the
States, probably 'cos it's so big and there is obviously a big of a
trend with it, but there's people there that have been doin' it for
a long time as well. I'm not sure how it will go, it's hard to
predict, but it's quite healthy at the moment. So, just enjoy it
while it's there."
One of the most obvious things they have gained from the US is a
quote many bands would die for. Industrial Nation described Martin
as "…one of the greatest living composers of the 20th Century." This
quote is reproduced on all of their press material, with a certain
amount of tongue in cheek.
"I just used it because it's totally not made up and it's quite
interesting. I put it on our press stuff and then it gets quoted in
other magazines. The more it gets quoted, you realise people start
to believe it. Whether or not it's true, I don't know. I'm not going
to deny it," he said, laughing.
It shows a major change in attitudes
that any magazine, even an industrial one, would refer to a musician
who uses electronic instruments as anything as serious as a
composer. In fact, more often than not, electro bands were not even
regarded as serious musicians.
"When we started, we had a drum machine and people said 'You need
a drummer' and 'You've got a synth, you need a guitarist'. I think
people are just so used to it, it's more acceptable. I think
anything that makes a noise is fine."
As for future noises, Martin is planning to concentrate on
developing one of the elements he's been using more and more.
"I am hoping to get a small string section and I want to expand
that a bit on the next album, if it's possible. I'm always expanding
on electronics, so it's gonna be a stage on."
Attrition show no sign of slowing down after 17 years, and
perhaps they'll become a hit for their 20th anniversary in 2002.
Whether of not they do, those lucky enough to have discovered them
have a few more years of challengingly diverse music to look forward
Girl the Goth