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Conductor of underground trendy nights through London, Paris, Berlin and beyond is industrial producer Oliver Ho – aka Broken English Club. His White Rats trilogy is a journey into darker experimental music. Having listened to White Rats, White Rats II, but not yet III, I am excited and slightly scared to see where this is going.
Melodic reconstruction of industrial noise feels so relevant in a society that holds technology at its heart. His set is trance-like. Ho eloquently explains his influences and direction on White Rats, gender identities and broken England.
With twenty years in techno, how has your sound, and potentially musical philosophy, developed?
My sound has become more refined, perhaps less basic, there are more layers to it. My music now has more variation in it; I am interested in exploring different types of feeling and energy. Broken English Club reflects that, it features more abstract noise and drone sounds, more vocals. The music I make now is the result of all my influences – punk, death metal, industrial, rock and techno. It encompasses more things, like lyric-writing and visual art; these things feed into the music. Perhaps the music has a sense of theatre or cinema to it now. It feels like a world that I want to create, a place that resonates with a damp quiet dread.
Through music, you “explore the darker parts of the human psyche”, as you said in a previous interview. Is this cathartic?
For me, art is a place to explore and articulate all kinds of things, it's a space that can reveal hidden truths by using poetic language. That can be music, images or words, these are all types of poetry. Art doesn't have to make sense, it can embrace absurd and irrational ideas. This process is a vital space for humans to explore our imagination and examine all the things that drive our behaviour. Some of these things can be very dark, violent, funny or boring, all at the same time. There's definitely a catharsis that's achieved, it's a way of holding up a mirror to our souls I think, a way of looking inwards at all the horrors and beauty of humanity.
Some of your tracks are underpinned by industrial and post-punk influences – the ominous droning guitar warped through synth pedals. Do anti-capitalist, anarchic political values come along with this punk sound?
There is no specific political message in my music. It's purely a distillation of my many obsessions, dreams and nightmares. These things don't obey any kind of order and can’t be arranged in any way that could work as something so specific as politics. Some of the things that have influenced me and affected my imagination have been political things happening in the world, like the rise of a new fascism in the United Kingdom and Europe and the emergence of Brexit. These things have affected my recent albums. There's a dirty rot of human hatred and bigotry that's running through the world right now. These things are certainly a part of how I am painting my portrait of the human animal.
Anxious track The Psychology of Prisons on White Rats II refers to West London’s Wormwood Scrubs prison. Tell us more about researching for this track.
During the time when my son was born, I was spending a lot of time visiting the hospital that was next to Wormwood Scrubs prison. There was a strong aura coming from this place. It had a dark concrete soul; its walls were the colour of black smoke, it spoke to me in my dreams. I felt it was important to translate these feelings into music. I am interested in the way human behaviour changes according to location and how buildings can have a powerful energy, and I think that this prison had those qualities to it.
You shared artist and thinker Alan Moore’s talk that discusses the birth of modern consciousness. He mentions art is a way of changing the consciousness in people, what mental space do you aim to evolve in listeners?
I am trying to create some kind of imaginary space, a fictional world that moves and pulses with shards of glass and metal, with human desire and a sky that rains down the echoes of our thoughts. It's all too abstract for me to really explain it though, I don't have a specific idea of what I am trying to do. I have to follow things that inspire me and let them guide me. I feel a lot of the time I am trying to be a mediator, a conduit for the music. I feel that the music is the master and I am its willing slave. My job is to serve it, to help bring it into this world, to summon it into being like a ghost’s spirit.
White Rats II is also inspired by JG Ballard’s 1970s book Crash, about car-crash sexual fetishism. The Modern Desire even features a reading from it. Does creating a sonic space that represents sexual fantasies have an influence on the dance floor?
I think clubs and the sonic experience of loud music are a very sensual thing in a very visceral way, in a very physical way; in that way, there can be parallels with sexuality. I think these things are all part of a wider idea of desire, animal behaviour, psychology and technology. I think the book Crash is a very techno book – it explores the relationship between desire and the industrial modern world, the way the two feed into each other and become part of each other. The way people experience techno in clubs is all wrapped up in these ideas. Dancing is something that’s very animalistic and ancients it’s all part of our cultural and biological programming.
In an interview, JG Ballard says violence created by technology is liberating. What are your thoughts?
I think when you look deeply into what Ballard is saying, you realise that he isn't talking in an obvious way. He is talking about violence as an energy, as a kind of force of nature, and that’s an essential part of life. Childbirth can be described as a violent act, it is an intense physical process and it is liberating at the same time. Political revolution in parts of the world can sometimes be violent and that is liberating for the people. Technology is at the heart of the modern human condition, it has become part of our evolution, and it has penetrated our most primal urges. It could be said that it is liberating parts of ourselves that were trapped or hidden before. This can be both negative and positive in my opinion, but it is also inevitable.
“Art is a place to explore and articulate all kinds of things, it's a space that can reveal hidden truths by using poetic language. That can be music, images or words.”
Your label is named Death & Leisure and it looks like you’ve played at Berlin, London and Paris nights I’d expect to see at least BDSM aesthetics at. Is there a relationship between fetish and your music?
There is definitely a relationship between fetish and my music. The origin of the word ‘fetish’ is from African magick. It describes the idea of objects containing energy. I see fetish as being about magickal states of being and transformation. My music is concerned with transformation and distilling down certain types of human energy. The photographer Robert Mapplethorpe was heavily involved with the New York fetish scene in the 1980ss, a lot of his photographs are very powerful and have this kind of sacred almost religious quality to them. There’s a state of being achieved within fetish rituals that happens in music too. Fetish seems to be about magnifying aspects of sexuality to make them more intense, and that's exactly what I am trying to do with my art, to amplify particular parts of my imagination. There can be an obsessive and ritualistic aspect to a lot of music, especially techno music, and that makes it a kind of fetish music.
Domination and sexuality naturally lead to gender politics; in the music industry, we need a feminist agenda to uplift everyone in the community. What is your stance?
I am a feminist and I lead my life according to those values. The freedom of women to be independent of control and express themselves in all ways is a vital thing to strive for. It's so important to promote positive modern ideas about gender. This goes for women but it's also vital for men too. I think both genders need to find new ways of defining themselves, modern women and also modern men. This means destroying toxic masculinity and creating new powerful and multi-dimensional archetypes. That's been the problem in the past – both genders were defined as monoliths containing very limited attributes. We need to embrace the idea of gender as a continuum that we both exist in rather than two separate binary identities.
The White Rats trilogy is a journey into darker experimental music. White Rats II is an intense ride, what is White Rats III’s destination?
I am in the slow process of collecting ideas for White Rats III. I think it may be less about the solitary ghost of who we are and more about the human race as a whole, perhaps more apocalyptic. The atmosphere in Britain sometimes feels like that, like everything is surging towards some kind of disaster. It is said that when the Titanic went down, the musicians continued to play right up until the final moment when the ship disappeared beneath the ocean. Perhaps that’s what the final part of my trilogy is, a little entertainment for the end of days.