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[IMAGE: Pitchshifter logo]
Radio Unfriendly Unit: 'Shifter
Despite a multinational merger (Universal & Polygram) that threatened the phone link, and a car crash just outside his house, J.S. Clayden managed to talk to Sorted magAZine about life as a Pitchshifter.

In the midst of the break-through of heavy-shit dance music, there was one band that released a CD that was almost completely ignored. Alongside the neo-punk dance music of the Prodigy, Underworld and the Chemical Bros., a group of punk-rockers, who had been using techno for years, released their most accomplished album yet.

The band? Pitchshifter. The album? www.pitchshifter.com, which your average music fans probably, and tragically, does not have in their record collection. A vicious mix of loops, beats and punk-rock that would blow the Prodigy off any stage, the accomplishment of 10 years of musical progression and, it seems, a pariah in the eyes of the music press. As a result, very few people bought it and for one simple reason.

"Snobbishness. The music press only covers bands they like, and they don't like a bunch of noisy punk-rockers."

The problem is that Pitchshifter used to be a 'metal' band. They've released three other albums and a few eps on the metal labels Peaceville and Earache and have long been featured in Kerrang and Metal Hammer. Despite developing a style that is as much 'just' metal as the Prodigy are 'just' dance and despite remixes by such people as dance guru Luke Vibert, Pitchshifter have been stuck in a pigeonhole and are not likely to be let out easily.

"We've sold about 1,300 tickets for our London gig at the Astoria, a lot more than a lot of the bands who are covered, but we're not. The music press is afraid to write about us. When we played Phoenix, we were the only band who weren't mentioned from the whole weekend in a certain UK music paper. We played to 7,000 people, some of whom had stayed up all night because we'd been given such an early slot. I couldn't believe it. I faxed the review to our manager and asked him, 'What's this about?'"

Despite this one disadvantage, the band is unlikely to run away and cry in a corner. They have recently completed an 8-month tour, taking in many parts of the world, and they are playing a clutch of gigs in the UK and Ireland at the moment. So much touring has its disadvantages.

"You come back home and your room is still the same, but everything else is different. Pubs have closed; your favourite place to eat isn't there any more; laws have changed; friends are getting married and having babies. You're like, when did this happen? When they ask you what you've been up to, well, I've been jumping up and down for eight months!"

However, despite the disadvantages, Jon still likes touring. He says he enjoys meeting people and exchanging ideas.

"You get to meet lots of different people conspiracy theorists and metal workers, like the guy who gave us a metal paperweight with the Pitchshifter logo embossed on the side. You get new books too, a guy gave me half a Kurt Vonnegut collection and said 'You gotta read this'."

One can't help but think that if the band were to break through in the States, things would get easier back home. An environment where NIN and Marilyn Manson can top the charts should suit Pitchshifter down to the ground. But that is easier said than done for a band from Nottingham.

"US bands hit the nail on the head as far as the fans are concerned. Bands like Limp Bizkit can sing about hating their home-town, going to the mall and how they'd rather live in Paris or London and their fans dig that. I'm not gonna sing that, I've been to London and Paris and I know they're rat-infested shit-holes as much as anywhere else it."

At the same time, they went down all right on their recent tours of the US, where they supported bands like Gravity Kills and the Deftones.

"The fans didn't know what to expect from a British band, the Who or something. We had this Union Jack across the back of the stage, but it was all smeared like it had been melted. We played a tape of Eleanor Rigby at the start, but it sounded like the tape had been mangled. They didn't know what was happening. But, when we started playing our punk-rock bollix and jumping into the crowd, they got into it."

The other side of most bands' life is recording. This too has its good points and bad points. Jon likes the writing side of things and recording stuff in the band's two studios.

"I have a studio in my house and it's great when you can get up in the middle of the night and record the guitar piece you've been working on. And, when we're together, we can have fun daring each other to do stupid things, like I dare you to piss in a bucket and sample it. Or I dare you to make the intro to that song five times longer OK."

It's different when the band have to go into the 'proper' studio to finish it off.

"It's hell. People are worried about money and getting things done on time."

To anyone who knows Pitchshifter's older stuff, the current album is a bit of a surprise. For years, the band showed potential, but never quite delivered, remaining a second-rate industrial-metal act and languishing in indie-label obscurity. Suddenly, they're signed to Geffen/DGC and release a shit-hot disc. Jon says that the change in sound was not a conscious decision.

"Pitchshifter make no conscious decisions. We're not jazz musicians, who can consciously change their style. It was a natural progression. Through solid playing, we became better musicians."

Of course, however good the music is, the most important thing to a major label like Geffen/DGC is the money. A serious new signing requires a risky investment, and however much money the band save on studio time by rehearsing in their own studios, that investment has to be recouped through sales. So, is the label happy?

"I shouldn't imagine so. There are lots of people employed to sell an album and I doubt ours has sold enough. But, my job is writing music, not selling records. If it doesn't work out, I can always get a job flipping burgers in McDonalds."

One thing a major label deal and an increased profile can do to a band like Pitchshifter is gloss over what they are trying to say. The band has long had a reputation for being socially and politically aware. However, Jon doesn't like them being referred to as a political band.

"All bands are bands. We all have things we believe in, but the sole purpose of the band is not to further my political beliefs. If someone wants to give us loads of money to record our music, we'll take it. At the same time, we come from Nottingham, not far from Langley Mill. That's where Skrewdriver [a blatant neo-fascist punk band] come from. We're almost at the year 2,000 and this overt racism is crazy. These are the things I know about, so I write about them. I'm not going to write about things I know nothing about."

The band is currently working on new material for their next album; in fact Jon had just come out of the studio when I talked to him. He said that the stuff is along the lines of the current album, but funkier, with more guitars and live drums "looped and sequenced, of course. It's anthemic, just a lot of noisy punk-rock really, but what else would you expect from us?"

So, it's unlikely to get any more coverage than the current album. However, Pitchshifter don't care. They are determined not to dilute their music just to get into the charts.

"We only record the songs we like to play live. I don't understand the stuff that gets into the charts. Like that Waterman bloke, he's back, isn't he? His stuff, like who in their right mind goes out saying 'I really have to get that new Steps track'? When all this is over, at least I can say that I didn't SUCK SATAN'S COCK, COCK, COCK, COCK, COCK [*repeat to fade*].
Related
'02 Interview
Pitchshifter - Genius
Pitchshifter, The Ambassador, Dublin, 21st September 2002

by Donnacha DeLong.