Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Interview: Superstar Destroyer Records

Prog is not a four letter word, claimed Twisted Nerve’s purveyor of rare psychedelic records Andy Votel atop his 2005 compilation. Linguists would beg to differ, but the sentiment lies in the expansive nature of a much-maligned genre. From Genesis to Tool via Jethro Tull and Radiohead, many recording artists have been branded ‘prog’, whether correctly or otherwise, but Alex Lynham points out that “being 'progressive' is a state of mind; it's about cramming in ideas and not being afraid to let motifs and threads just unwind on their own.”

And Lynham should have at least a fairly good idea. As a music writer for many websites and publications from Line of Best Fit to Classic Rock presents: Prog, the co-founder of Manchester based label Superstar Destroyer Records has been able to pick the brains of many a musical mind, from Oceansize’s Mike Vennart to Amplifier’s Sel Belamir. But his favourite chin wag has been with Ben Curtis, a guitar formerly of The Secret Machines and currently playing with School of Seven Bells, an interview which “was amazing,” says Lynham, “as he's possibly my biggest influence as a guitar player – I asked him all these geeky questions about past bands, effects and stuff and he humoured me, which was great.”

Prog as a genre often has to defend itself due to Steve Lamacq and other media trendsetters peddling views of two-chord punk as a saviour movement. It's no wonder many buy into the anti-‘prog’ vibes so as to avoid its overly theatrical and un-cool connotations; even Peter Hammill of 1960s and 70s prog band Van Der Graaf Generator's agreed in a previous interview with "the fundamental principle that music had got overblown with the idea that you can only be a band if you’ve got six keyboards." However, since that 1970s heyday, its genres and sub-genres have diverged and overflowed into various streams and there are those who may share the appreciation for modernist interpretations of progressive music without realising it.

In this respect, Lynham’s clarification of ‘prog’ vs ‘progressive’ in alt rock thinking becomes more salient. “I've seen both Yes and Dream Theater and [the theatrical stage show] is more-or-less what they're about, but there's also bands like Tool and Porcupine Tree that come at the genre from a completely different angle. I like to make the distinction of 'progressive' rather than 'prog' in that sense, as it's easier to get non-'prog' fans to give it a chance. You see a bit of talk these days about 'post-progressive' and that's basically what I mean; all those weird bands that don't fit in anywhere else.”

Aside from writing about bands in the eye of the wider public, Lynham also champions lesser known musicians through Superstar Destroyer Records. Up to now that has manifested in EPs and singles for Ninetails, Dune (now named Peak District), Metamusic, Nowhere Again (Lynham’s band whose name was influenced by the aforementioned Secret Machines) and Black Market Serotonin, who will perform at the Now Then Superstar Destroyer show at Antwerp Mansion this week. Those records meander through many a rock sub-genre, taking in the math, alt and post-rock inventiveness. Indeed, when Lynham says he has assembled the SSD roster through “kidnapping, extortion and blackmail,” perhaps he means he has entrapped the musicians’ minds in his ‘progressive’ genres net, before conversely allowing them the free-thinking, shackle-less melodic mindset that he shares. Sort of like Captain Beefheart’s isolated cabin lock-in to free the minds of the Magic Band from societal structure during the writing and recording of Trout Mask Replica.

Whatever it means, he’s letting Black Market Serotonin loose – without demanding a huge ransom – to support Manchester favourites Cyril Snear and Liverpool’s Always The Quiet Ones on Antwerp Mansion’s stage this Thursday. There’ll be no Beefheart-esque lock-in but there will be progressive music aplenty through what Lynham describes as “a line-up so hardcore it'll rip out your eyes and piss on your brain.”

Words: Ian Pennington
Poster & flyer design: Hattie Lockwood
Logo: Courtesy of Superstar Destroyer

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