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Pop Will Eat Itself Interview by Baz Bardoe

Pop Will Eat Itself. It was a stark prophecy in the NME that gave one of England’s most enduring and successful indie acts its name. And it has proven very true. Popular music is feasting upon the carcass of its past glories. The charts are full of songs performed by muppets and written and produced by committees. In the age of lame, the re-emergence of the defiantly innovative PWEI was almost a necessity. But let’s back track a little.
PWEI officially came into existence in 1986, but the original members had all been playing in bands for some while. Early in their career the band decided to combine dance and hip hop beats with guitar. They laced their lyrics with plenty of fun and a bit of social commentary, and established a sound that remains distinctive. They have had plenty of hits, and like many bands of the era were signed by a major label for awhile, before going independent, and even being signed to Trent Reznor’s label. There was lots of touring all around the world but by the mid 1990’s it was all over. Or so it seemed.

My introduction to the band was via their second album “This is the day, this is the hour, this is this!” which was released in 1989 and much to my delight combined electronic beats with metal and rock guitar. The band played Melbourne’s iconic Old Greek Theatre and it was simply the maddest gig I had experienced, and that is saying quite a bit because Melbourne’s hardcore punk and metal scenes had arguably reached a crescendo in previous years, and there was plenty of foldback units covered in blood and people with teeth missing. But PWEI just took it up a level and then a bit more. The packed venue was encouraged to invade the stage and then dive back onto the swarms of people trying to make it onto the stage. It was chaos and the sound was crushing. What made it especially potent was the programmed beats. There was no drummer – which instantly made their stage setup look different – , just a relentless barrage of crystal clear dance and hip hop beats with raw guitar. I think everyone hobbled out of the gig changed in some way.

Almost a decade after they had begin it was all over. PWEI disbanded in the mid 90’s. Main programmer and bassist Richard March went on to form dance music act Bentley Rhythm Ace, with drummer Fuzz Townsend who had joined PWEI in the early 90’s. Vocalist Clint Mansell went on to score a number of film soundtracks including the brilliant ‘Moon’. It seemed PWEI was gone. But then there was a short reformation in 2005, and in 2011 an unexpected thing happened. PWEI reformed, albeit with only one original member, the band’s other vocalist Graham Crabb. Subsequently bassist/programmer Richard March has rejoined along with drummer Fuzz Townsend. Mansell’s place is taken by vocalist Mary Byker from Gaye Bykers on Acid – a perfect choice given that band’s similar pedigree.

Which finally brings me to ask Crabb why he reformed PWEI?
“I just felt there was a kind of a gap there.”, he explains. “I missed it and had ideas and didn’t want to just write it off…….” Previous attempts to reform the old line were “met with various degrees of success” but a core problem was always going to be that “Clint was busy with his film work….” So Mary Byker seemed the perfect choice, especially since he had also done work with Apollo 440. A problem for any PWEI reformation was getting all the old sounds, backings and samples together. Technology has moved on and some rumours suggested that all the old discs had been lost. “We’d lost a lot of stuff”, Crabb explains. “We had to contact record companies and find old reel to reels, and old DAT’s……we did have a couple of hard discs go down, but 90% of stuff was backed up somewhere…We just didn’t think about that back in the day….”

Replacing Mansell in the lineup was never going to be easy but in the end there was really just one choice. “I knew Mary from back in the day and we always got on great”, says Crabb. “He’s done stuff with Apollo 440 so he was the only choice really. Richard March is back as well, and Fuzz too….Gradually we are getting more of the lineup back….”

One topic I have been asking musicians about lately is the impact of technological changes upon their careers, especially downloading which has for many made it very tricky. “I think initially as a musician who had always made income from people buying music , I didn’t welcome it but it is an unstoppable force…….” says Crabb, “but we all do this because we love it…..” What makes touring especially gratifying is the large age range in their fan base these days. “We do get younger people which is nice”, says Crabb, “but some of the fans also have kids. And we had younger fans at the time who never got to see us, and now they can as well”.
Listening to PWEI “product” (as they love to refer to it) released since the reformation it is as though they literally haven’t missed a beat. They still have that distinctive sound, and perhaps because they were always so far ahead it sounds incredibly contemporary. Now more than ever we need bands with a rebellious streak. We need PWEI.

Tour Dates
Thursday 8th March – Brisbane – The Triffid
Friday 9th March – Melbourne – Max Watts
Saturday 10th March – Sydney – Factory Theatre
Sunday 11th March – Perth – Rosemount Hotel
Tickets from:

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