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[IMAGE: Attrition]

Composing noises
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.

[IMAGE: Martin Bowes]

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 stop."

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.

[IMAGE: Attrition]
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 to.
Attrition - the hand that feeds
Attrition - The Jeopardy Maze

Girl the Goth