John Foxx Interview

This interview appears also on my website http://www.bennythejudge.com

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John Foxx doesn’t need any introduction being one of the most important figures in contemporary music and one of the pioneers of electronic music.

Recently John Foxx collaborated with Iain Sinclair and this gave me the opportunity to interview him.

Iain Sinclair and John Foxx:
John Foxx and Iain Sinclair. How did that come about?

I was invited to perform some film and music work at Bath University, as part of a series of events. The theme concerned memory, identity, time, place and environment etc. Right up my street.

The curator there, Michael Bassett, is very engaged and energetic and made the connection with Iain Sinclair, who had also been invited as part of the event series. He suggested a public conversation.

This terrified me. Iain plainly possesses a formidable intellect and I was very aware that he was the one who began the entire genre of new London writing – via Lud Heat through to London Orbital and beyond – and has been a seminal influence on a generation of other writers from Ackroyd onward. I also regard him as Ballard’s natural successor.

As it turned out, he was charming and accommodating – and, as we all discovered, a natural raconteur.
All anyone needed to do was mention a topic and he effortlessly took it all the way to goal, every single time. It was a very successful evening – altogether because of him.

If you have read any of Iain Sinclair books, what is your favourite and why?

I‘ve read London Orbital, Lud Heat, Edge of the Orison and have just bought Lights out for the Territory.
I think Lud Heat is probably my favourite, because it was a first step into that sort of area, and because of the galvanizing effect it had on Ackroyd, and others after him.
London Orbital is next – An excellent idea, beautifully carried out and I think it consolidated his reputation as an influential contemporary writer, connecting him with Ballard and establishing him as the creator of a major new territory. He was suddenly mining a very rich seam and everyone became aware of this.

I was also very pleased to see Sinclair and Ballard being generally recognized as significant writers – it was about time.
Many of the previous lot of English writers were too smug and self-regarding to be at all interesting.

London
Is the London you live in limited to a neighbourhood or do you move around a lot?

I’ve lived in several areas – Kensington, Islington, Surbiton, Kingston, Highgate, Hornsey, Tollington Park, Shoreditch, Spitalfields, Kings Cross. In my first year I moved sixteen times, mainly from squat to squat. Things stabilized somewhat after Art school and it became Highgate and Shoreditch / Spitalfields. I lived in London for over thirty years, far longer than anywhere else.

My version of Spitalfields isn’t really a neighbourhood, except inside the building. You’d encounter Gilbert and George, Tracey Emin, the Chapman brothers – but the area changed so quickly and constantly. It usefully connected with the aspects of the city that I most deal with– friends tend to be people I work with, mostly coming from the arts, or some sort of connected activity

How do you move around normally?

I walk or take public transport. Walking is best. I enjoy that vague hallucinogenic effect of randomness, and it’s fun to discover unexpected connections and proximities. London is also a huge web of memory and association that gets woven more intricately with every journey through it.

In the years spent in London, how has the metropolis changed, and in particular Shoreditch?

Shoreditch has altered completely in the past thirty years, from dereliction to raging fashion. Who would have ever thought that in 1980?

That upward curve gave me heart, even though I didn’t like the result.
I was born in Lancashire, in an era of continual downturn. I’d assumed London would be the same – it has been wonderful to witness a complete renaissance at first hand.

During that period I had lots of dreams of complex streets of old, hopelessly decayed walls, then of all the accretions being stripped away, and dry, clean, pale stone being revealed underneath. It made me happy.
I’m so glad my children have experienced that, instead of what I experienced.

It says on Wikipedia that you spent about five years “living like a ghost in London”. Is that true? If yes, what was it like?

Yes. A bit difficult, but I’ll try. I’m still attempting to describe it to myself so I can begin to understand it all.

I guess it’s a common enough event, really. I was mentally a bit knocked about – no one’s fault but my own.
When in this condition I tend to go emotionally numb – become sort of once removed.
You tend to drift, because its difficult to feel any urgency, or that anything has any importance. The hierarchy of normal life – paying bills, maintaining tidiness, etc., seem irrelevant. It’s as if you become a sort of shadow or ghost and can’t quite connect in the same way as everyone else, and all the time you feel quite calm and unconcerned.
This is how you become homeless eventually. I guess I was lucky in a way, having sufficient resources to allow me to remain like this for quite some time before the bailiffs arrived.

During those years, I walked a lot. And oddly enough, that was one of the things that saved me. I walked and talked to myself, and into a Dictaphone. Gradually, instead of feeling that the universe was composed of a sort of negative pole magnetism, which caused everything to fly apart in my hands, things began to accumulate and adhere instead. Then I could start building a life again.
This was around 1992, and I guess it lasted through to 2003 or so. A lot longer than five years.

This episode was what really brought the figure of the quiet Man alive for me. I think I was able to deal with it by somehow decanting it all into this character, then gradually extracting myself. So all that world is still there, but now relegated to someone else.

Italy
You have always had a big success in Italy; a lot of hard core fans. You even contributed music to one of Antonioni’s movies. How has your relationship with Italy been like over the years and what is it like today?

Italy thawed me out emotionally after the austerity of London. It was just after I’d made Metamatic, which was very minimal and disciplined and detached.
Doing things like that over a long period always exacts a price, and I’d got into the usual numb and dazed state. Felt used up and empty.

Then I went to Italy and walked instantly into sensual overload. Marvellous.

The simple pleasure of walking out at twilight in a clean shirt and slacks after swimming in a warm sea. Eating food and drinking fresh wine from places you could see from your window. And Rome, my god, what a city.

You slowly come alive again. Slough off the old grey shell. You realize your clothes stink of damp and the dullness has got inside your skin.

After the monotone of 70’s London it was like being born again. It was all marvellous and rich, and made me happy and dizzy and drunk, and yet it still allows a singular sort of urban dignity.
I was truly grateful and have never forgotten it.

Technology
What sort of technology do you use nowadays for your music and also for daily use?

Mac Laptop – plus all the old equipment – this still has a lot to offer, especially since speaker and amp technology has come along so much. You can finally hear just what analogue instruments can do.

What is the most recent trend or gadget in technology that has excited you? (could be iphone or twitter or games or similar or nothing really)

Digital video. Now you can copy and project previously despised and unusable forms – especially super8 – and see all their imperfect glory properly for the first time. It enables a total revision of those old formats.
This also enables new forms of film to be made – the archive fiction/documentary and mythography. Creates a seamless annexe to other forms – book, film, lecture, web, tv, etc.

Music (contributed by a friend of mine who is the music guru):
Have you ever felt like going back to the music of Ultravox?

No-one really wants to be back in their old gang. You simply have to move forward.
I still want to do some more work with Rob Simon, though – he’s pure magic. We’ve been talking.

Was the collaboration with Robin Guthrie a one off or can we expect more?
The surveyors are definitely in. I‘m always eager to work with Robin on any level. He is one of the most singular and original musicians we have.

The only real problem is time – we both have extended commitments at least for the next year or so. But I think it will happen.

Many thanks to John Foxx and to Steve Malins for making it happen.

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