Jan29-Feb5/98 Georgia Straight Vancouver B.C. pg61
Download Downright Unsettling
by John Lucas
The members of Skinny Puppy have added more limbs to Vancouver's electronic-music family tree than just about anyone else. Cyberaktif, the Tear Garden, W.E.L.T., Frontline Assembly, Doubting Thomas, and Delerium have all in some way, sprung from Puppy's twisted roots. Download, likewise, grew from the same fertile local soil, but it's rotating cast reads like a roll call of the international electronica scene's leading lights. Its members and collaborators have included, at various times: the longtime Puppy studio team of producer Dave "Rave" Ogilvie and engineer Ken "Hiwatt" Marshall; engineer Anthony Valcic (whose resume includes work with Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails); Genesis P. Orridge (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV); Mark Spybey (Dead Voices on Air, Zoviet France); the late Dwayne Goettel(Skinny Puppy, Doubting Thomas); and Vancouver techno Dj Phil Western (aka Philth, Cap'm Stargazer), who, through his work with Off and Gone, Floatpoint, Landhip, and Plateau, has added his own share of branches to the aforementioned tree.
At the centre of it all, however, is cEvin Key. "It's my name on the contract," Key explains, speaking in the darkened confines of his Seymour Street studio. "I like working with a lot of people. I've had an opportunity to do that with alot of people that I admire, that's for sure."
To date, Download's ever-shifting lineup has released four albums, including *Furnace* and *Charlie's Family*, the soundtrack to director Jim VanBebber's film about Charles Manson. Nineteen ninety-six saw the release ofthe group's Nettwerk Productions debut, *The Eyes of Stanley Pain*, which managed to scare the bejeezus out of many who heard it. Although it was a good deal more restrained than Skinny Puppy's gothic-industrial assault, the disc was quietly unsettling, and Orridge's vocal contributions were as uncannily eerie as his best work with Throbbing Gristle.
On the more recent *III*, the only moment that registers on the scare-o-meter is the track called "Flight of the Luminous Insects". After the calming ambient drift of its first few minutes, the track suddenly explodes into a skittering, percussive cacaphony. Overall, however, Key and company have opted for a more subtle approach that encompasses danceable techno beats and an uncluttered musical landscape comprised of warm, analog synth sounds. Compared to the inpenetrable noise proffered by Skinny Puppy and even Download's Puppy-like early efforts, the music on III is downright stark in its simplicity.
"On the last two records, that's something we set out to do," Key explains. "We didn't fill the space to the limit, like we normally would. We tried to restrain ourselves...because we really feel that that's just as challenging, in a way, as having density. Density is something that isn't required in music. "Also, the songwriting formula is different. It's been about abstract music since Download began. The reason Download was created at the beginning was as an outlet. It wasn't an avenue to make commercial music."
Making commercial music has never been one of Key's priorities. Before the Puppy days, the keyboardist played with the popular Vancouver new-wave band Images In Vogue, but felt stifled by the constraints of straightforward pop music. Recruiting the inimitable Nivek Ogre, whose stream-of-consciousness rants and extreme stage presence sometimes overshadowed the musicality of the proceedings, he formed Skinny Puppy as a vehicle to express his more experimental side. For most of its career, the band had a happy home at Nettwerk, the Vancouver label that released its first EP and its subsequent albums. All but one, that is.
When its contract with Nettwerk expired in 1992, Skinny Puppy signed with Rick Ruben's then-new American Recordings label. Where Nettwerk had been content to let the group follow its own demented muse, American wanted a product, something that could compete with top-selling industrial-rock acts such as Minisrty and Nine Inch Nails. The recording of *The Process* was a long and painful experience for everyone involved, one that saw the band's members at odds with thier label, their producers, and, most painful of all, each other.
"It should one day be documented that our scenario is the perfect case of a company trying to cash in with people, making people the commodity by...[forcing them to become] the product that you want them to become," Key says, bitterness still evident in his voice." The record-company rankling might have been easier to deal with if the group had presented a united front, but divisions existed within the Puppy camp before the recording even began. " Everybody had ideas about where they wanted to go, and we all had a direction in mind. However, everybody's direction at the time didn't really match" And, perhaps, a highre power had a hand in ensuring that the Malibu recording sessions would be the band's final days. Mother Nature welcomed Skinny Puppy to California with a slew of wildfires, earthquakes, rainstorms and mud slides. "So many disasters happened during the making of that album that it was unbelievable," recalls Key. The final disaster came on August 23, 1995, when Goettel died of a heroin overdose, and any hope that the group would recapture its lost magic died with him.
The whole experience left Key bitter and dissillusioned, but his outlook on the music industry-and life in general-has since matured and softened somewhat. In fact, Key even plans to return to California next month to try to establish a career doing sound and music for films. "A couple of years ago, you couldn't have *paid* me to live in L.A. to be near the record industry," he reflects. "I don't really care as much any more, you know what I mean? Squirrels in your backyard is the best thing to be caring about, I think. Big, fluffy, orange squirrels in your backyard." --------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------