Eyeless In Gaza
A very early (mid-1980) article/interview by John Balance (later of PTV and Coil) – explaining “Independent Scene” origins from the magazine Stabmental.
[The “Independent Scene” is still an important issue with EIG/MB.]
Eyeless In Gaza are a duo from Nuneaton. They are Peter Becker (age 24) on synth, voice, bass, violin, drum, stylophone and melodica; Martyn Bates (age 22) on voice, electric guitar, plastic organ.
I first got in touch with Martyn Bates before E.I.G. had formed as such. I had heard selections from a tape he had done for I.D. cassettes called ‘Dissonance’, and I was so intrigued by the really vicious electronic scrawls he produced (he describes the tape as a scream of frustration) that I had to find out more about the tape and about Martyn. We corresponded regularly and then suddenly Martyn sent me a pre-tape of a planned EIG ep. The tape was three tracks from their first ep plus three more which are to be included on the soon to be released Lp. The tape was a total change from anything Martyn had done (or rather sent me before). It was haunting, beautiful and totally fresh sounding. It was difficult to believe that such stuff could come from the same person as had the earlier tapes that I had heard. It was a shift from violent, anti-music to smooth, controlled mood music. The following article is culled from lengthy correspondence between Stabmental and EIG. Martyn writes “EIG is a constant learning process for both of us [Peter and himself]. Personally, I hadn’t played guitar since the beginning of 1977. In Dec. ’79 I decided to try again, this time, instead of trying to steal ideas off of others, I decided to build up my own approach to everything and somehow learn not to be afraid of what I couldn’t do – I think this is the only realistic way of learning an instrument; sort out your own rules, fuck other peoples! For Peter too, the synth was a relatively fresh instrument, having owned one for about a month before EIG were formed. He was sick of playing guitar and decided to start from scratch on a completely new instrument. He chose synth, because of its capacity to produce extremes of tone colours.”
S.M. “How do you go about writing your songs? I’m interested because they come across as strangely structured, sort of dreamy.”
“Eyeless songs are usually constructed around a skimpy framework written by me. Pete listens to the idea and then thinks of an idea to compliment it or re-arrange it – and then sets off playing it. I then feed off what he does and suggest a new step forward. The key to the whole thing is spontaneity. Concerning the original framework – I never spend more than ten minutes or so knocking up the melody. I get a basic idea and then I tape myself kicking the idea around with the guitar or organ for five minutes. If nothing happens I stop. You can’t force the music out. You could, I suppose, labour on, but if you can’t capture the intuitive feel of it then it would sound forced and stiff. The passion is the important thing to capture and communicate and we can’t possibly feel the music if it’s forced and laboured.”
S.M. “How do you go about writing the lyrics then?”
“When I write a lyric, I’m thinking of a specific set of circumstances or attitudes and so on, but I (usually) set the thing up so that one can read a lot into it. This way, the listener has to stop and think about the words, and it allows you to fit your own interpretation to them. Fuck black and white/A B C, straightforward lyrics. Abstracting the sense leads to countless personalised interpretations. I may spend up to and even over an hour writing a set of lyrics. Though basically the same thing applies in that I never force them. It strikes me that most of our lyrics have an underlying theme of self-denial, desperation and of intuitive feelings. Some titles are You Frighten/By Proxy/4 Walls Talking/Oversight/The Decoration/Animal Hate/March in Silence/Ether Tears/The Buddha Approach.”
S.M. “How many gigs have you played? And do you like playing live?”
“We’ve done about 9 so far [no doubt more since this was written, including one I know of with This Heat]. 8 of which were in the Coventry/Nuneaton area. One was at the Queens Head, Stockwell, London supporting The Reluctant Stereotypes – a total waste of time, playing to a handful of failed popstars who aren’t interested in the first place. The reason we have played so few gigs during the last 6 months is that we feel relentless “gigging” kills bands – it becomes just a job: no longer any fun. The same goes for persistent rehearsing. You cannot virtually live on top of each other and expect to produce a music that lives and breathes – creativity needs space for reflection and consideration. I think that in a way the time spent not gigging and rehearsing is equally important to the time spent at these activities. We try and operate along the same lines as I think ‘I’m So Hollow’ do, in that we don’t socialise at all (except for rehearsals and gigs). We’re not as severe in this respect as they are, but we realise that it’s the best way to end up not hating each other. When we do gigs, we try and employ a large facility for change in the material that we do. Often altering mood and tempo in set pieces and playing totally new pieces for half the set each time we gig. This is another point that I feel strongly about – keeping things moving. I’d hate to think of us playing anything that we are playing now in six months time. Change is crucial! It’s needed to keep up an enthusiasm and interest in what we are doing.”
S.M. “So you very obviously enjoy EIG?”
“Yes, enjoyment – for ourselves – is the key reason why we are involved in EIG. We make no great pretence of having flags to wave or something to say – we do it for ourselves and if anyone else likes it, then that is great. It’s nice to just be able to set people thinking with our words or the atmospheres we put across; or inspire them to try and be creative for themselves, then we have done something worthwhile. There’s too much pessimism and down heartedness it seems to me – I believe people can do anything that they want to do if you believe in it enough.”
S.M. “What backgrounds – musically – have you had? Have you been in any other bands before?”
“Peter used to play in a working mans band which he says ‘was good discipline but ultimately soul-destroying – I had to get out before it finished me off’. I used to sing for the pre-ska Reluctant Stereotypes, but when in Oct. ’79 one of the other members left, I decided to follow him. Two phrases sum up that horrible music – far too complex – and far too clever-clever, both musically and lyrically. I was sick to death of the whole thing and I just wanted to make simple, honest, passionate music.”
S.M. “How many of the first single were pressed and what is the situation regarding the 1st album ‘Fingers Knot in Fists’ [later re-titled ‘Photographs as Memories’ – Jerry Nilson]?
“The ep has sold out of the original 1000 copies, save about 30. It’s not being repressed at the moment because we can no way afford it. We need all our money for the album [this may have all changed now, because Cherry Red Records are showing interest in taking over pressing and distribution etc.]”
S.M. “Your record and tape company ‘Ambivalent Scale’ has released a lot of stuff by other people. Can you tell us about all this?”
“Ambivalent Scale is very incestuous as all the same people help on each others tapes, but they are all very different sounding. ASR 001 is a 1/2 version of ‘Dissonance’. Originally on ID cassettes. It also has bits of ‘Dissonance 2’, which I did with Steven Parker. The new version is less of an ordeal than the first one – it’s shorter. ASR 002 is the EIG ep. Bron Area’s (C45) tape ‘One Year’ is ASR 003. I stumbled over Bron in an ancient Nuneaton pub – just bass and piano – and they were playing tinkly, Velvets type stuff. Later on they acquired a guitarist – a French guy, Al Royer. I reckon they are on the verge of splitting up, which is a shame. Pete Becker’s solo efforts is ASR 004, ‘They Brought the Stratosphere’ – a silly title. It’s nearly all instrumental but it’s described as “tuneful atmospheric”. They’ve got a great track on it called ‘Choice of Directions’, which has a ridiculously outrageous vocal part by Steve Parker (see what I mean by “incestuous”). ASR 005 is by the curiously named group ‘Fantaccini Playground’. F. Playground was originally intended to be a vehicle for Steve Parker’s poetry, but it ended up as a wide-open excursion – lots of space, with what little poetry there is muted and distorted through effects. ASR 006 is ‘Puritan Logic’ by The Stick Insects. Personally I don’t like this one at all. It’s not very interesting. [Stick Insects being the fragmentary ideas of Phillip Clarke.] ASR 007 is the fantastic cassette ‘On Earth Two’, by Kevin Harrison. This is by far the best quality of any of the cassettes, both soundwise and in actual content too. Kevin is in the Coventry band ‘Urge’, who had a single called ‘Revolving Boy’ out. The tape is a sort of ethnic influenced pop. Mostly short pieces, very rhythmic/danceable – employing a cut-up technique. ASR 008 is a limited booklet of illustrated EIG lyrics called ‘The Plague of Years’. It costs 20 p to cover the cost of the postage.”
Eyeless In Gaza represent a focus. They are a focus for their own activities and also for a large amount of other peoples. They produce some of the most interesting and beautiful music that I have heard this year, and what is important is that it has come out of an area which has previously been written off as a loss. Their actual sound reminds you of late-night easy listening Echo and the Bunnymen, with sculptured instrumentals that recall the Residents more sublime moments. The lp will be out in the new year, and it will no doubt be well received. Deservedly so. This duo may just be lost in a sea of competition unless they are picked up by a sympathetic major distributor [where are you Rough Trade?], but the influence that I suspect they will have on others will be considerable.