Eric Random once relocated to the Himalayas to learn percussion. It was about as far as one could get from the sooty brickwork of Manchester’s post-industrial decline. Even at home, however, the former Tiller Boy was a million miles removed from the stagnant, commercial culture of Britain’s Top 40 charts.
Random’s musical journey began when he became a roadie for a local Manchester band, Buzzcocks. With their singer, Pete Shelley, he started The Tiller Boys, a legendary but short-lived project that is immortalised on the poster for the first Factory Records event.
As if supporting Joy Division wasn’t enough, Random and the Tiller Boys drummer, Francis Cookson, started Free Agents and played a series of dates warming up for Buzzcocks. That led to a proper introduction to Cabaret Voltaire, and then to a solo recording at the Western Works studio run by Cabs in Sheffield.
Random’s Zelig-like career was only starting. His connections to the Cabs led to studio contributions for their 2×45 album and a live collaboration as The Pressure Company to raise money for Polish dissidents. The Sheffield links continued with ties to the FON label. Then Nico came to England, in search of space, drugs and a career.
The former Velvet Underground chanteuse took Random into her world, and he became a key part of her live shows for almost a decade. His time spent in the Kulu Valley learning tabla came in handy, but so did Random’s post-punk sensibility. Nico was a beautiful tragedy, and they were fellow-travellers in the decay of England’s North and the Eastern Bloc.
Random’s work has evolved over the years, but the fusion of exotic sounds with an electro-industrial pulse has become its dominant feature. With each release, his blending of occidental and oriental material has become more and more concentrated, until the pulse has reached singularity.
Random’s new album, Wire Me Up, is a stunning collection of electronic tracks that puts most recent techno to shame. Released as a double album on vinyl, it’s a strong return to the turntable by the veteran multi-instrumentalist. It’s been two years since Two Faced hit us, and in that time Random has created a meisterwerk of bubbling, rhythmic electronica. His early, industrial dance style is there in the background, but the sound is evolved, sophisticated and upgraded.
It is next level material, made with the intuition and insight of an musician who has worked with some of the most iconic artists of our times. It stretches between the cosmic German sounds that came from Conny’s Studio to acid-flecked dance material, and it covers a range of moods while maintaining an eye on the dancefloor.
We asked Random some questions to fill in the gaps between the tracks.
They used to say that it’s grim up north. Do you think that the relative deprivation of the region had an impact on the way that industrial and experimental music grew from Manchester and Sheffield?
Yes, I believe the deprivation and sheer grey starkness that existed in both cities did play a part in the music created during that period. Not only was it influenced directly, as art reflects one’s surroundings, but also the fact that being a cultural wasteland with only 70s football and pop culture made it a necessity to create some alternative.
You made a treck to the Himalayas in the early 1980s to study the tabla. What are your enduring memories about that trip?
Apart from the physical torture in the early stages of learning the instrument, the longest lasting impressions I have of all my visits to India was the power of nature, to see mountains as living, changing entities. All this and the overwhelming poverty and strength that so many of the people possessed.
The pulse has been a consistent feature of your music – with rhythms more organic than most. What have been the musical or spiritual influences on your own style?
Rhythm has always been a major influence on what I do with repetition playing a major part in the attraction – whether it originates from hypnotic and spiritual, ethnic sources, or even from the mechanical sounds of industry.
You played with Nico for the best part of a decade. It was during a particularly difficult time for her, personally, because of her reliance on various substances and family issues. What are your favourite memories of working with her?
Touring with Nico was to experience both the highs and lows of her lifestyle and addiction.
Travelling around the world with a party of characters some of who were just as excessive. Getting in to numerous bizzare situations especially on tours such as the gigs we did behind the Iron Curtain.
One of my most favourite memories is simply a night we all spent at an apartment we shared in Brixton with Nico playing the straight man to a marathon of jokes being reeled off by John Cooper Clarke – one of funniest things I’ve ever witnessed.
You appeared on the Some Bizarre Album, alongside Depeche Mode and Blancmange. You have played the same shows as Joy Division and Cabaret Voltaire. You have appeared on releases from Psychic TV and Durutti Column. Nico has sung your songs. Are there moments when you feel your name should be better known?
True, I’ve got around quite a bit, and I’m still surprised now and then by people in far off places being receptive to my work; but, overall, I think I’m known by the people who count.
There is a new generation of electronic artists experimenting with rhythms, since the days of ”Mad as Mankind.” Are there any young artists that you feel an affinity for?
The resurgence in electronic music has resulted in numerous new inspiring groups. Apart from recent collaborations with older, familiar artists and younger musicians, such as Wrangler, there are projects like Gazzelle Twin and a number of solo artists – such as Polypores, whom I played an event with last year.
What projects can we expect from you in the future?
Apart from a 12” for the Freaks R Us label, which is close to finished, I will be writing tracks for a new album plus beginning to work on new visual ideas and live gigs in the North West, on top of a gig in Vienna and working on ideas for an event in LA.
Wire Me Up
is out now on Sleepers Records