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The Blitters

“In 2002 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Colchester Essex underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as musicians of fortune. If you have a problem with music, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire THE BLITTERS.”

With ‘punishing, hyper-fast beats; piercing, overdriven, cheap synths; random MIDI sequences; senseless rants; frequencies that can only be heard by diseased animals; unlistenable, nausea-inducing noise”, for the past two years now the best kept secret in independent/underground music has been nestling itself away in deepest darkest Colchester, being the most exciting force to hit the area’s music scene since forever, the lightning rod and driving force for the latest episode of the Colchester music community. One lone Canadian stands tall ‘yet another man forced away from his homeland due to the dire lack of a creative industry and possibly because he owes money on a student loan, to which the government lawyers have already found him and are now continuing their furious quest to dismantle his life”. This is the world of The Blitters and Allen Zuk.

This past summer however the secret came out. The long muted debut single ‘Eating Your Brains” (on Band Hand Records) found itself released (following several criminally ignored disco plate demos) and John Peel scooped it, ate it up and spat it out on the Radio One night time listening public. Just as things appear to be heading overground (slightly), Allen Zuk has decided to return home to Canada (Toronto) to plan his next era in existence. Here is one last address to the British nation as Allen boards a big plane to Toronto, a genuine wingwalker.

How did the Blitters come about to being?

A: The original idea came about when I was very young, probably about 14 or 15 years old. I made tapes with an old keyboard, a small disco mixer and a reverb unit, all from Radio Shack. The songs were basically hardcore synth punk and I had plans to release a demo cassette under the name ‘the Corrupted’. I gave up on this soon after when I was able to afford a guitar and start a regular band.

About 15 years later in the spring of 2002 I found myself out of a job. I had been away from music for a while, and was hearing some interesting new stuff at gigs in Colchester and London as well as on MP3s from sites such as Epitonic. I had been playing in a garage rock band back in Canada for a few years in the ’90s and I wanted to do something that would offend garage rock and traditional punk fans and excite open-minded music fans. I spent several weeks writing and recording stuff, the result of which was the July 2002 demo.

I put together a few copies of the demo and sent it to certain venues and promoters whom I figured would respond well to it. One of these venues was the Colchester Arts Centre, and as Stafford Glover is a full-time employee there he was one of the first people to hear it. I was looking for a bass player and he expressed an interest so after I had played a few nerve-wracking solo gigs in Colchester, London and Manchester I asked him to become a permanent member of the band. Thankfully he accepted.

What were your previous music endeavours like?

A: When I was very young I wanted to be a DJ so I guess learning to mix hip hop and Top 40 12” singles was my first creative contact with music, and inspired me to try making music myself. My first musical compositions have been described in the previous answer. In the late ’80s to the early ’90s I sang and played guitar in a hardcore punk band and played various instruments in several other weird one-off projects. As mentioned I also played bass and sang backup in a garage rock band for a few years in the mid-to-late ’90s.

What is your songwriting process and how do you record?

A: I often compose lyrics and music separately, and each element has got to be busting out of me – I really have to be inspired or I won’t have the energy to finish the song. Many songs just come to me when I’m doing something else. For example, the lyrics to ‘Eating Your Brains’ just about wrote themselves in my head while I was in the bath, and I had to jump out and write them down before I forgot them.

Once I have a first draft of the song and the lyrics, I make a copy of the backing track for Staff to listen to, and then he adds bass parts during band practice as we flesh out the song. Then I make a few changes after that stage to get the song just right.

Most of the beats and much of the synths are programmed on the computer. We record everything else to the computer as well using an analogue-to-digital converter, but we use various amps, pedals and other devices to get the vocal, bass and synth sounds we are looking for in each song. The process varies depending on whether we are constructing the backing track for our live gigs or a track to be released on CD or vinyl.

How much does coming from a computer background assist/effect your music?

A: There is a lot less time and money spent in the composing and recording process than there was before. For musicians, owning a computer now is much like owning your own four-track recorder was back in the ’80s or early ’90s, but with incredibly powerful benefits. Still, I think I’m more influenced by my punk rock background and my environment than I am by my computer use.

What have your gig experiences been like?

A: Varied, to say the least. Mostly good fun, but personally I hate most aspects of playing live gigs, and I suffer from ridiculous stage fright, so I can usually only appreciate our live shows after the fact.

What have been the most notable bands that you have played with?

A: Playing the first ever gig with Liars was an immense honour – they are a great live band and probably one of the top ten rock bands in the world right now. I think the most exciting and intimidating was Joan of Ass in Manchester, and Gobsausage in Nottingham was also certainly very memorable. However, my favourite band to play with is Cats Against the Bomb and if we can play all of our gigs with him, we will.

What has been the absolute highlight of performing as The Blitters?

A: That would be impossible for me to say for sure without wanting to change my answer later on, but the first gig with Staff in Ipswich stands out for me. I also liked the Poison Club in London, although this was easily our worst ever show. Another major ‘highlight’ was getting the first show over with and being able to show my face again in public, thanks to the encouragement of my wife.

How does the music scene here differ from Canada? (What are the main differences?)

A: For many years Canada’s music scene has been severely disjointed and marred by greedy, selfish and backward thinking on the part of most musicians and promoters, and I think this has been the case ever since the early 1990s when musicians and the North American music industry discovered you could make money out of ‘weird’ music. The alternative media (local arts weeklies, campus/community radio and Brave New Waves on CBC Radio One) have worked hard to maintain the spirit of underground culture, but much of this has been co-opted by rich kids or university students who use their musical ‘tastes’ as a fashion accessory, and who show great disdain for music that doesn’t sound like something they have already heard over and over again. Still, I am inspired by some of what I’m seeing so far in Toronto, and have been hearing out of many other cities, so I think the spirit is coming back again. People are rediscovering the joy of DIY culture.

From what I can tell the situation is much the same in the UK. Fans of original music and ideas are finally leaving the ‘alternative music industry’ behind and founding real bands, fanzines, labels and clubs. Throughout the history of popular music the UK has always had the strongest new music scene and I suspect that the best of the new breed may be yet to come, although a lot of the current young bands are already simply incredible. In contrast to the earnestness and positive approach of the Canadian music press, however, most of the UK media is just awful and nasty, aside from a few champions of creative spirit such as John Peel. And, say what you will about the NME, but much of the independent publications and promoters are just as concerned with trends and supporting only the ‘correct’ new acts. It is apparent that many of London’s top club nights are established by egotistical people in retaliation to being excluded from other top club nights, and the same goes for a great many record labels and fanzines. Many of these are slaves to mainstream press coverage; entire ‘underground’ musical movements spring up in response to NME articles. Having said that, the most important point is that the mainstream media in the UK can be cracked by just about anyone, whereas the glass ceiling is still very strong in North America. This alone may be why the UK produces such consistently strong music, but I suspect there may be deeper cultural and historical factors at work.

Campus (or community) radio is a good outlet for original music in Canada — the charts are based on airplay rather than sales. Most of the stuff that dominates these campus radio charts is on the mainstream charts in the UK, except for the Canadian bands that really do benefit from airplay on campus stations.

What have been the biggest obstacles facing The Blitters?

A: My own ineptitude as a musician, I guess. Seriously, we haven’t hit any obstacles in the UK. The goal from the beginning was to write some songs, play some shows, release a record and get it on national radio, and we’ve done all that. And I should point out that if it wasn’t for all the people in East Anglia, London and other parts of the country who have helped us out in so many ways none of this would have been possible. As much as I bitch and moan in Blitters songs about the state of the world and human nature, there are many kind and open-minded people in the world, and luckily for us, a lot of them like crazy music.

Generally, is it essential to be creative? (Have a form of expression?)

A: For me it is. I think that everyone who is able should contribute something meaningful to his or her environment, and I think this must consist of something more than just going to work and getting pissed at weekends. Most people don’t contribute anything either because they think their job is important enough, or because they think financial stability will get them the happiness they seek, but they are wrong. I’m not saying this because I think it is some sort of biological or spiritual imperative, I just think that it is easy to see the difference it makes in people’s lives and their immediate surroundings.

What advice would you have for other performers?

A: As soon as an idea strikes you, write it down, refine it, then just go out and fucking do it. Don’t listen to the people who think you must have the ‘right’ equipment or any kind of training – you don’t. In fact it is better if you don’t. Also, don’t assume that everyone will be interested in what you have to offer. You will gain a lot more by sending out four or five demos with personalised letters to only the people you think are most likely to be interested than you will by spamming every record label, club and promoter on earth. If nobody gets back to you, too bad. You’ll just have to self-release your stuff and book your own gigs – if you don’t care enough to do this then your idea obviously wasn’t good enough in the first place. Remember this is as much or more about self-expression as it is about entertainment.

All apologies but is Allen Zuk your real name?

A: Yes.

Culturally, how have you found the UK to differ to Canada?

A: When I first moved to Colchester from Canada I noticed an awful lot of obvious differences – mainly language-based – but after a few months I figured everything was pretty similar. Now that I have lived over there for four years, while still visiting Canada once or twice a year, I think it is drastically different. There are just so many social nuances that vary from one country to another and when you are a foreigner people just tolerate your mistakes (or take the piss out of you behind your back, in the case of London), so it takes a long time to understand what you are doing wrong, or indeed that you are even doing anything wrong. I have become acutely aware of many of these differences and have found that in many cases I am simply unable to alter the way I socialise. This drives me nuts because I have always been fanatical about clarity in language and communication, but I have had to come to terms with the constant possibility of being misunderstood.

In short, the differences are too numerous and complicated to explain or even list. People are just going t o have to travel and find out for themselves!

What are you current listening tastes and what are your favourite forms/styles of music?

A: My tastes change as frequently as my moods. Right now (September 2004) I am really excited by the new breed of electronic and punk music across the UK and particularly in London. Electronic music is getting more unpredictable all the time, as is rock music, but what is really interesting in my opinion is that the barriers between electronic and guitar-based music have crumbled in a way that is very exciting and a little bit different from anything that has happened before – especially in that it doesn’t sound awful. The underground rock and electronic scenes are finally beginning to overlap in North America as well and I think the Dirtbombs/ADULT. split single may mark an interesting turning point over here.

I have always enjoyed bands or performers who try new things at the risk of humiliation or put on unpredictable live shows and while London or Berlin may be the hub of that type of activity, it is beginning to happen everywhere, including Canada. I’ve seen a little bit of interesting stuff here in Toronto already but not enough to talk about yet.

I listen to a lot of earlier music, like traditional jazz, rock, punk, metal, prog, electro-style hip hop and any experimental or indie stuff that I can find on the Web or hear on the radio, new and old. At the risk of sounding like a pretentious twat, I will admit that I really get a thrill out of the way music is used in films, like at the end of Ingmar Bergman’s To Joy or the beginning or Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible – I am still surprised when the combination of a story and a soundtrack makes me feel things I’ve never felt before. Music videos can do that to a lesser extent as well I guess.

What are you plans for the future both musically and personally?

A: I want to see how Canada receives the single, and if it goes OK we will try to book a Blitters tour here for the spring of 2005, hopefully with Cats Against the Bomb. By that time I hope to have the new album done. If we still feel like it, and if people still want to see us, we might do some UK dates in the summer. After that, I think I’ll be ready to wrap it up. I will probably still make music and DJ a bit but I’d like to quit performing. I look way too much like a creepy old shop class teacher up there already.