Action Directe
With a full length album on the way, and some great tracks released to date, Keith Elcombe catches up with the band and finds out more about them. (January 2004)
(photos credit to credit Michelle Robek (c) 2003 )

Firstly, for those that do not know, who are you and where are you from?
Well, Action Directe ARE now back to a trio of myself (Joel, vocals & guitars), Phil Hanlon (programming & laptop) and our new recruit, Scott Preston (guitars & keyboards). We are based in Leeds, England, although only I come from West Yorkshire originally - Phil hails from Newcastle and Scott from Stockport.

How would you describe your music?
I'd place our sound slap-bang between early EBM, political hardcore punk and electronic goth. Our original plan was to combine the harsh four-beat attack of DAF or early Nitzer Ebb with heavy, frenetic guitars and leftist political attitude, and I think overall that's what you get with AD, although recently we've broadened out the sound into something altogether richer & more atmospheric - while trying not to lose that original edge.

Where would you place yourselves in the Alternative scene today?
Perilously out in a limb! When we first entered the scene in 2000 we had no contacts with promoters, links with other bands or friendships with DJs or journalists, so people regarded us with deep suspicion in the Goth scene, and to an extent that is still the case. It seems that the UK goth/industrial scene falls into several broad camps, none of which have really warmed to we’re trying to do. In London, the scene is more of a 'lifestyle' thing, a fashion-based thing centred around clubbing, shopping and seeing the odd gig, and is quite light-hearted, kitsch, humorous and avowedly non-political; the Nottingham scene is on the darker, fetish end of the spectrum, and again it tends not to get very political; whereas some sections of the EBM/Industrial scene in the UK are quite right-wing, and AD have always been considered (rightly or wrongly) to be a Communist band, so they have proved quite resistant to us thus far! At first we were labelled as dour, unrepentant Stalinists, but now we're being labelled as feckless, soccer-obsessed pissheads. We're neither, of course. So we operate somewhere outside of those three powerbases if you like, in competition with ourselves because there really isn't a lot of other bands out there trying to do what we do.

What was your musical experience prior to Action Directe?
I was originally in a school band called The Mountains of Siam - we supported, The Mission and The Wonder Stuff when they played our High School around 1990-91; but the forerunner to Action Directe was a kind of art-punk-metal band I was in called Shoot The 18; the name was about shooting members of Combat 18 (the British neo-fascist group), and as a result our gigs in Leeds kept getting cancelled at short notice under suspicious circumstances. So that's when we knew we had to change the name of the band...

How did Action Directe come into being?
I had the name Action Directe but no flatmate at University - Phil - insisted he could play bass. He couldn't, but he joined anyway! We shared the worst, most damp-ridden basement flat in one of the most burgled part of Leeds, and spent all the time eating cheeseburgers, drinking Vodka and reading books on Marxist theory...that was in 1997. Initially we were trying to be a kind of cross between the Manic Street Preachers and Public Enemy - all shouty polemic, processed beats, powerchords and anarcho-sloganeering - but all that had bled out of us by the time we got our act together in 2000. By that point we just wanted to make a very, very serious noise in order to make very, very serious points.

What and who were your early musical influences?

The first records I bought were by Talking Heads, who were my favourite band when I was a kid. They were just the most intelligent band I had heard before (or since), just buzzing with ideas that weren't just about the saying the really obvious things in the most obvious ways. I hate bands who are 'just about the songs', bands who have no creativity or ideas above the narrow confines of whatever medium they're working in or whatever myth they're buying into. The bands that say 'we let the songs speak for themselves' are the bands whose songs have nothing to say. So the bands I got into when I was growing up - Killing Joke, New Model Army, the Manics, the Clash, Public Enemy - had a similar sense of the possible, had ideas as well as tunes. And they were very, very pissed off, which I liked!

Who would you say influences and inspires you outside of the music scene?
Politics, history, music, sport – nothing really outside of those four things, really. I do research in my spare time into the politics of the Hungarian minorities in Central & Eastern Europe, and apart from that I love to pick over ideas - the ideas of Brecht, Marx, Baudillard, the architecture of the Bauhaus, Socialist Realist art, Soviet history, the retreat of Bonaparte from Moscow, the ideas around the English Civil War, the Miners Strike of 1984-85, Miles Davis and Blue Note jazz, the execution of Ceausescu, the writing of Joseph Conrad or Ernest Hemingway...there a million and one things I like to read about, see, hear. Anything but fucking ‘Changing Rooms’!
Also, for my sins, I am a big fan of Leeds United FC of England and Ferencvaros FTC of Hungary. You could describe me as a frustrated football hooligan - I trash stages instead of pubs. If Leeds drop into Division One, I'm going down with 'em!

What sort of musical training had you had prior to forming AD?
I can’t speak for Phil and Scott, but not much on my part – just a B grade in GCSE Music. For all I know, Phil might have gone to the Stockhausen School of Electro-Noise Posturing…but I doubt it!

So far the demos and tracks that you have released have been of exceptional quality (far better than some of the demos we get!) - is this 'quality' part of the AD ethos, and does it mean that we can expect great things from you in the future?
This is something that has only recently been drawn to our attention – to AD it’s as much a part of being in a band as any other. Studio production is a creative and exciting process with limitless possibilities, and we just thought that everyone in any band would try their best to make their records tip-top – but seemingly that isn’t the case! We’ve got our own little studio set-up and produce our own records at the coal face, as it were; we’re self-taught and make lots of mistakes, but we get the result we want more often than not - and we’re often mortified by the production on some bands’ records on this scene! I think some of them obviously aspire to becoming semi-pro, which means making as much capital as they can from their product, and if that entails making records that aren’t sonically spot-on on their home studio set-ups then so be it. But it makes me despair when bands release demos recorded on a four-track as full albums! And bands that use the same Yamaha drum machine sound on all their fucking songs…sorry, but you hit a nerve there!

I remember in one of our reviews we said that AD's music was "Marxism let loose with a guitar". Is it fair to say that your music does have a strong left-wing stance? If so, why is this?
Guilty as charged – Action Directe are a left-wing band, which doesn’t necessarily mean that all of us have the same views, because we don’t. But that’s what the band is; mainly because we wanted to bring a bit of gravitas to the goth scene, give it some music that actually means something. We’ve got a higher sense of purpose than most other bands, and I think it’s our job to say things that other bands don’t – or won’t – say. I think you’ve got to have some integrity, especially when you’re a smallish band that have to struggle to achieve anything whatsoever. If we sang about pumpkins or bats, then why would we bother to make ourselves poor, brutalised and pissed-off just to put our point across?
So the opinions in the lyrics might not be that of the band as a whole, or even my opinions for that matter. A case in point is one of the new songs we’re working on, ‘Playing With Monsters’, which is a protest against the Chinese Olympics in 2008. My opinions on that issue are far more ambivalent, I’m not sure what I think – but the song stands on its own.

Where do you see AD in 2 to 3 years time?
Still here, still struggling. One step forward, two steps back – we just hope to have pissed off so many more people in 3 years time!

So what can we expect from AD in 2004?
We’re working on the new album, ‘Counterculture’, which should be out in April or May, and from February onwards we are doing as much transit-van-and-stage abuse as we can. 2003 was a bit stop-start, but we gonna put in 10 months of solid slog this year, as well as bringing our neuroses to a whole new crowd or two. I’d expect that Action Directe will make a lot more sense to people at the end of 2004 than at the start, put it that way…

What gets your back up about society today?
Most things actually – I’m the only person I know who wakes up angry! Really it boils down to how unnatural modern life is and how little control we have over own our lives nowadays. It pisses me off that there’s so little humanity in people - men behave like ‘blokes’ and women behave like ‘girls’ and people don’t relate to one another on anything other than the most shallow level. We have become so genderised due to the media’s obsession with using peoples’ sexuality and gender-consciousness to make money. I feel we have reached a stage where the things that have always seemed so natural and resonated so deeply in the human mind – sunshine, milk, bread, wine, sex, prayer, music, work – have become so poisoned by forces beyond our day-to-day control; additives in the food, chemicals in the water, diseases in our bodies and illness and decay in our working lives. So now these things give us headaches and allergies, indigestion and anxiety, poverty and alienation and even death. It’s a situation which leads to us giving attention-stiffening drugs to kids as young as 6 or 7 who we can’t be bothered to control or reach out to. So what we would call ‘advanced capitalism’ is actually a disease which is killing us all off – if the Americans don’t do that first, of course…

Where do you see society in 5 years time?
I have to confess to be quite pessimistic, as I think we’re sliding back towards pre-War standards of living in the UK. But anything can happen – who’d have thought in the Eighties that the Soviet Union would collapse? And who would have thought in 1914 that the central powers in Europe would collapse? As long as Leeds are in the Premiership, I’m sure mankind can have hope in the future.

What about tours and live dates - what have you done to date, and what would you like to do in the future? (Anyone in particular you'd like to tour with?)
We’ve played nearly everywhere in England, which is not very exciting frankly; we’d love to take our polemics out to the home nations but there’s precious few opportunities out there for us. We managed to get to Germany a few years ago, which is always fun as they serve the heartiest beef in Europe, and – we’re looking at going to Eastern Europe for some dates, which would be ideal. We played Whitby Gothic Weekend in 2002 as well, which is always a joy. This year we’re re-doubling our efforts to cover old and new ground, and possibly give London a proper going over as well – they’ve had it easy for too long!
A proper tour would be good, like a support slot with a band which has some proper mental fans. New Model Army, Killing Joke, Agnostic Front, Conflict, Asian Dub Foundation…anything where people actually get off there posturing posteriors and dance would be fucking fantastic!

I notice that most of your tracks get re-mixed - what are your views on re-mixing, and are you particular as to who you will let re-mix your tracks?
We think it’s important in two ways; firstly it can be a very creative process both to do a remix and to be remixed by other bands, and if you’re interested in the dance side of things and aren’t too precious about being authentically RAWK, then it can be very rewarding. Secondly, it’s very interesting when a group of bands remix each others’ tracks, and so far we have worked with bands that we feel are on a similar wavelength to ourselves, bands that could we consider our contemporaries – Libitina, Synthetic, Arkam Asylum and K-Nitrate spring to mind. In that sense remixing is just a natural way of expressing solidarity with bands who we have a lot in common with, I suppose.

Anything else to add?
Only that you should all keep an eye on A.D this year – I’m sure it’ll be entertaining one way or another! And thanks to everyone at Hard Wired for their continued support.