Leeds’ finest grindcore export, the Afternoon Gentlemen, have been laying waste to stages across Europe and the US with everyone from Wormrot to Weekend Nachos in a furious whirlwind of blastbeats and white cider. M3 had a word with drummer Elliot Smith about the numerous benefits of free music, copyright laws and the recent Akron Family/Bastard Noise dispute…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Elliot Smith – At the moment I have to confess that I’m a bona fide afternoon gentleman and have been for some time. It’s not something I’m especially proud of but there you go. So generally, I spend my time drinking beer (as much as I can afford), going to gigs (as often as I can afford), playing grindcore, and signing on the dole every two weeks. My standards of personal hygiene remain pretty reasonable though.
What inspired you to form the Afternoon Gentlemen? What are your own musical backgrounds?
TAG came into existence as a mess around/joke band, and it still is really. Around 2007 we were all playing in various different bands (death metal, grindcore, doom, emo) and we decided we wanted to make a new band that was less serious/demanding/time-consuming and more just about mates having fun in the basement of our house. At the time I was playing mostly technical death/grind type stuff and had been for some time, so I wanted to do something simpler and less pretentious. That way we could get drunk and have fun without having to worry about everything sounding perfect, or having to set up a stupid drum kit with a hundred cymbals on it. I think all the other lads felt pretty much the same way and that’s what led us towards a more punk/hardcore style than the bands we’d been in before. But it was never our intention to still be doing it five years later, putting out loads of records and doing tours. That pretty much only happened by accident because all our other bands failed or split up and we had nothing better to do.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
I honestly don’t care. Generally I like buying vinyl but I’m not a format fetishist as all of them have their pro’s and con’s. Vinyl is overall the most aesthetically pleasing in terms of artwork/packaging and having a long-lasting physical artefact, but you can’t listen to a 7″ on the bus, eh? There’s also a fair bit of pretentiousness surrounding vinyl with the whole ‘limited edition 180g coloured vinyl’ commodity fetishism bit, and labels like Cherry Red or Hydrahead taking the piss charging £20+ for a new LP, so I suppose that makes me a bit uncomfortable. I guess the same thing could be said about bands releasing tapes in the ‘digital age’; you could see that as a gimmick bands use to try and seem like they’ve got genuine punk/DIY credentials, but I still buy and play tapes anyway. For me it’s all about what’s available though. If I want to hear or own a release I don’t care what format it comes in. Generally I listen to hip-hop and technical/death metal type stuff on CD as it generally suits the production style better. Lo-fi thrash/grind/noise stuff works well on tape because the format doesn’t compromise the recording quality so much. MP3’s are great for making playlists or when you’re on the move. Indie rock and shoegaze or sludge/doom sounds nice on vinyl when it’s mastered/cut well. So they all have their own place in my opinion. Being elitist or fussy about format is pretty stupid in my mind.
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
Not at all, I think again it comes down to what kind of a listening experience you want to have. People always use the example of downloading the ‘hit’ song from an album and neglecting all the rest of the tracks, but that only applies to shitty music/artists anyway. I can’t think of any examples in the types of music I like where an artist makes a record with one good track and an album full of filler. One thing I have noticed though is that when I listen to playlists of MP3’s I find it slightly harder to focus on what I’m hearing compared to listening to a full album/EP/CD. But that’s probably because I tend to mix a lot of different artists and genres together for a playlist, whereas listening to a full release (or even just a portion of a full release) from one artist allows you to immerse yourself in the sound and musical ideas more fully. Ultimately though I think this question is rather like saying ‘do you think the novel will be forgotten or devalued in the modern age of tweets and text messages?’ Of course not. Some people will choose to focus on the ascendant media type of the day, but others won’t, it all comes down to what sort of an experience you want as an individual. Both mediums, whether album or MP3, novel or short article/blog post have their comparative advantages, and these advantages will ensure that each medium survives.
Many people have claimed that there is no longer any money in record sales, and that touring is the most efficient way to earn an income as a band. How much truth do you think there is in this sentiment?
Well there isn’t any money in either if you’re in a grindcore band so maybe you’re asking the wrong person! Certainly we don’t make any money from touring, or at least not very much, but the main aim for us is just to avoid losing money. If we break even then we’re happy. Similarly with records, we prefer to charge people what we consider a fair price for our records rather than what we can get away with charging. It just comes down to your intentions and outlook; we’re not in a band to make money, we do it for fun. But if a band IS out to make money they can probably do it through record sales, touring or merch sales all equally well, it just means they have to be comfortable asking for high guarantees, charging £15 for cheaply made t-shirts etc. If you want to make your living playing music then that’s your decision and maybe that’s what you have to do, but personally I’d rather not have to do things I’m not comfortable with.
Why did you decide to make your White Cider Chronicles tape available for free download via Grindcore Karaoke?
Firstly because that release is sold out and people still ask us if they can get it. Secondly because those recordings are no longer available anywhere else or on any other release of ours (unlike the 7″ material, most of which is collected on other releases). Thirdly because those are the first recordings we made so they’re a good way to introduce people to the band. When the last copies of the ‘Pissedography’ CD’s/LP’s are sold we’ll be sticking that up for free download on Grindcore Karaoke too. Eventually all our stuff will be available for free digitally.
What benefits and/or disadvantages have you encountered through this distribution method?
The benefit is obviously that people can hear our music more easily/for free, so more people get a chance to enjoy it. I don’t think there are any disadvantages really, as anyone who is really into your music or into owning hard copies of music in general will buy it anyway. Look at Thou for example – they put all their music up for free download on noladiy.org (fantastic website) but their records still sell very well, in fact perhaps even better as a result, because people can ‘try before they buy’. It’s a very egalitarian approach and as someone who is often short of money I think it’s both an important ethic and a generous gesture. And besides that, who makes music for it not to be heard? The only reason all our music isn’t available for free right now is because other people (labels + distros) have put their money into making our releases, so I want them to get their money back before we make it all free to download. If I had my own label or if I could afford to put out our stuff myself then it would all be available for free from the get go because as I said, that has more of a positive effect than a negative one.
Do you think the internet has made it easier to adhere to the DIY ethos? If so, do you think this will enable the DIY approach to flourish even further, or do you think it could harm it through oversaturation?
I don’t think the internet makes it any easier or harder to adhere to DIY ethics. DIY and how strongly a person or band adheres to it is a personal conviction that has nothing to do with the internet. The internet does obviously have an impact on DIY though, sometimes positive sometimes negative. Of course the chance to make your music available to the world for free via the internet is significant, but then again I’ve seen bands who take DIY seriously sell their music for donations, or give away records/CD’s free at gigs. So I think that attitude can and will flourish without the internet. One thing the internet HAS done for DIY is making it much easier to contact people and maintain supportive networks. For example booking a foreign tour would be much harder without the ability to email people in other countries or pass on contacts to friends via the web. But on the other hand, how many lazy promoters rely on the internet to promote their gigs just by posting on message boards, rather than making a poster themselves or going to gigs and handing out flyers? There are other examples where the effects of the internet can run contrary to the ideas of DIY but it’s all swings and roundabouts in the end. It just depends on your intentions and how you choose to use the internet.
Do you think traditional copyright laws are still enforceable in the digital age, or do you think we will have to rethink the concept of copyright itself?
I’m no legal expert, so I can only comment from my own perspective, but being into stuff like hip-hop and punk I personally think the idea of ‘intellectual property’ is ridiculous. Where would music be today without sampling for example? If every artist in the history of hip-hop was unable to use the samples they wanted because of copyright infringements then there’d be a lot less great music out there. Pastiche is important for any kind of art because as time goes on it becomes harder and harder to be 100% original. Like the recent Akron Family/Bastard Noise squabbling on the internet demonstrated, the concept of someone owning an image, a sound, or even a word, is nonsense in the world of art and ideas (and especially the world of punk). For a healthy creative scene everyone needs to be free to take elements of other things and try and make something new. But equally (as the backlash against Akron Family for appropriating the ‘bastard skull’ logo also showed) if you go about borrowing images/sounds/ideas from other people in the wrong way then you’ll have problems. People will always be able to find out where an idea originally came from, so in that way ‘intellectual property’ in regards to music and culture will always be self-regulating. Ultimately, when you ‘steal’ a riff/logo/sample or idea of any kind from somewhere else, your audience will often know where you’ve taken it from and judge whether the result is good or bad. That is enough of an incentive/preventative in itself.
When legislation and laws get involved they usually serve to try and make such issues black and white, but in these cases that’s not so helpful. Most of the time high profile copyright cases just represent large wealthy organisations trying to claw back some of what they’ve already lost, or to secure their positions even further. Like Metallica v. Napster, even if people were ‘stealing’ their music, so what? Those arseholes are rich enough as it is. When an institution like the BPI claims to be aiming to protect musicians through it’s actions I just find it patronising and funny, because many musicians like myself don’t want or need to be protected from people ‘stealing’ our music. Go ahead and take it if you want, we don’t care and it’s rubbish anyway! So basically, fuck copyright laws.
Finally, what does the future hold for the Afternoon Gentlemen?
In summer we will tour in the UK with Weekend Nachos and in Europe with Backslider. We’ll also probably release some more records at some point. Mick Grogan will play a sick guitar solo. But other than liver disease and other long-term health problems, nothing is certain.