Welsh grindcore maniacs Atomçk have been blowing minds with their free ‘Yes To Alien Victory’ EP, leading Jay Randall to hail them as “the UK’s answer to Discordance Axis”. Guitarist Luke Oram told M3 about the history of the band, how technology has affected the album and the good and bad sides of having so much free music out there…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Luke – My name is Luke Oram. I play guitar in the grindcore band Atomçk. I am also an artist who has, on occasion, worked with various bands- here’s a little plug for that: www.lukeoram.com
What inspired you to form Atomçk? What are your own musical backgrounds?
I’m only able to answer this from my own perspective – not the other members of the band – so that is what I will do: It’s a long story but both my self and Linus (vocals) knew each other from the local music scene of Newport in South Wales. Both our previous bands had recently dissolved so we were looking for something to do, and we both liked grindcore and decided to do that kind of music. Before Atomçk I was active in the harsh noise band Cementimental, and also played guitar in various rubbish bands throughout my teen years etc.
After being in as conceptually ‘free’ a band as Cementimental I wanted to combine that with some more traditional elements of actually playing an instrument. Grindcore seemed the best option to accommodate those aims. We formed the band sometime in 2005/6.
Later we were joined on drums by the excellent Marzena. He hails from the Czech Republic and lived in the UK for a number of years during which he beat up his kit for us. Eventually life’s ebb and flow took him back to his native land and we were sad, but not totally sad because it meant his badass band Hibakusha would resume activities. Check them out.
More recently the drum stool was re-occupied by Karl, who has bashed for such luminaries as Black Eye Riot, Bullettridden and Warprayer – an obviously strong pedigree of both fast and crust.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (e.g. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
It largely depends on what manner of music I wish to hear, and what kind of experience I want out of it. For me nothing beats vinyl in terms of overall ritual- the performative aspects of selecting a disc and playing it add an extra dimension to the music. However MP3 technology wins hands down when it comes to convenience and usability. So I guess it depends on how romantic one feels towards an album!
I think having a variety of formats is a good thing, getting caught up in a format war only really serves the manufacturing industry seeking to profit from it, and not the fans looking for new and exciting things to listen to.
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?
I think it has certainly been undermined, and at that point I have to ask myself “why is it an issue?”. Ultimately it matters to me because I had my formative experiences with recorded music before MP3s came along, so my concept of what constitutes a piece of music art is influenced by that- i.e. I expect it to be a cogent album that holds together in terms of visual aesthetics and sound, and also in terms of a balanced and thought-out listening experience.
I have no idea if any of those things are important to anyone who grew up with file sharing, and objectively I can’t say one perspective is better than the other- you could certainly consider the ‘album’ format to be originally determined by economics and say it’s better to have delivery methods that suit the audience that will purchase and use them.
Generally in life having more options is better than fewer, and digital technology has certainly delivered that, this is only going to be a problem if all of a sudden a band cannot release a CD when they want to. And since doing that is very cheap these days I don’t foresee it being a problem for a while. I guess that the gist of what I am saying is that just because we inherited a specific historical format does not mean given format is the proper one per se- I look forward to when a band tops Sleep’s Dopesmoker and releases a 4 hour song because it does not have to be restrained to a piece of plastic.
Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
I personally love record stores where you can dig and find interesting things.
Having said that the only thing that has ‘killed _______ business” is the market. A commercial enterprise is not a library, and as negative as that sentiment may sound any business needs to make money. I guess I have just become quite jaded to such campaigns- the very same people who adopt a social networking “slacktivist” stance also do not support with custom the very thing they purport to. Perhaps that is because everyone would rather download for free, or maybe it is because the record stores do not represent what people are interested in… or both.
I can certainly say the majority of purchases I have made in recent years went to small distros who had amazing widespread stock- especially Bonesbrigade and Active Rebellion. The good people who run these also drive bands so it is very beneficial if you go to a lot of gigs.
Why did you decide to make all your music available for free download online?
Simply because it seemed the best way to reach any kind of audience, and moreover anything we release on a physical format will quickly find it’s way to the internet anyway- I decided it was better to capitalise on that and have some control as to the quality available for free and to make sure everyone involved was credited etc.
This is fine for me because I do not make my living by selling my music, someone dependant on sales might find it a lot harder to simply allow their music to be given away. One thing I would like people to understand is that no matter what you paid for a piece of music, it has cost someone money and effort to make it exist so that you might enjoy it, and that should give it some kind of value. In my darkest moods I find myself thinking the proliferation of free music has devalued it quite a lot.
What benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen from this distribution method?
The obvious advantage is a much wider audience for the band. The disadvantage of that is this widely dispersed crowd aren’t based in your immediate area and thus will not be coming down to a show any time soon.
This has created a kind of two-tier system that I find pretty interesting and will elaborate on:
I think a band inherently seeks reward for it’s efforts, and that reward comes in two forms- actual currency (payment for gigs, merch money etc.) and cultural currency (attention, website hits, number of ‘likes’ for a band’s social networking page etc.). In a society where the music itself will no-longer generate actual currency the primary goal has crept to acquiring cultural currency- bands releasing things and playing free gigs in order get it, in the hope that at some point the cultural currency can become real.
Now that has always been the case to some extent, however the rise of free MP3 distribution combined with social networking has acted to significantly move the goal posts for music: self promotion ability has been foregrounded over music itself. I am fully aware that this kind of skill has always been part of the music industry, but now it has become an integral role within a band; to the end that bands with good ‘hype-men’ can very successfully parley their cultural capital into a kind of power in the music community- power over access to gigs should be obvious to anyone in a band who has been bumped down to opening the bill to make way for some flash-in-the-pan darlings , but when labels such as Earache actively ask for a YouTube play-count in their demo submission page one must wonder what is more important to the worldwide musical community? There used to be a real magic to discovering a band for the first time and getting into their music: now every band is so desperate for attention one’s most frequent interaction with them will be unsubscribing from their status updates that continually beg you to check out their pre-production demo.
This is only a problem if you, like me, have the outmoded opinion that a band should be judged on it’s musical merit and not it’s willingness to repeatedly post it’s own YouTube videos and links in every forum, group and Facebook musical event page going.
On average, how many people would you say still pay for a release when given the option to download for free?
I don’t feel I can quantify it into a number, but I’d say not many. From personal experience physical copies are most likely to sell at a show, where I suspect it is acting more as a memento, considering anyone in attendance has most likely already heard all the badly written grind they could possibly want simply by visiting my band’s website.
What is your take on the recent SOPA/ACTA controversy?
I claim no expertise on the vagaries of international copyright law, but my over arching feeling is that censorship is wrong and should be refused, and indeed resisted as the song goes.
The world has changed completely from when I was a child pestering my folks into buying me Seventh Son of a Seventh Son on 12″, and if one were to momentarily disengage from the obvious moral problem of stealing and take a broader view it is patently obvious that the nature of the market no longer reflects the conditions under which the concepts of copyright were formulated.
Instead of desperately retrofitting outmoded legal concepts in order to make a last ditch clutch for whatever cash remains, I’d rather see something sensible happen that uses the way things are now.
However it must be pointed out that I myself do not make money from my music, so it’s very easy for me to have this view. If I discovered 16 million people had downloaded our last record I might be inclined to take umbrage at my still being broke… but if I was clever I might realise that such a level of popularity can make things happen anyway.
What would you say are the main challenges facing an up-and-coming musician/band in today’s cultural climate?
This question is funny because it has the unstated major premise that I have any kind of authority or success to give such advice! But if I will answer from my own mediocre experience then I’d say there are basically two problems for anyone who wants to make music, I will break it into two pieces of advice:
1: Enjoy it. Statistically speaking your band will never make money or be popular so there had better be something about running it that you enjoy. ALL BAND GUYS moan about not being paid properly etc. (me included) but ultimately playing music in front of people is a great privilege. So quit bitching about that trendy band who are “getting big” and concentrate on your own thing.
2: Don’t be a Dick. A long time ago I came to accept that there is nothing particularly special about anything I’ve ever done. The underground music scene is so caught up in petty divisions and jockeying that being involved with it often sucks balls. If people dropped the ego and realised it’s really about having a shared experience then perhaps the underground might cease being so.
Yep, I haven’t answered the question directly… you folks are sharp enough though right?
Finally, what does the future hold for Atomçk?
We will continue as we have before for as long as it is possible. That means more shows and tours, more music out there for anyone who might be interested. More years spent in a state of prolonged artificial adolescence ;)
We recently recorded a full-length and would like to organise a physical release for it- as of yet I do not have one lined up however so time will tell… we had a lot of fun recording it at Rapture Audio (who have done some famous and better bands, but don’t need to thank me for the namedrop there) so that is the main thing!
Please do not hesitate to tell me I am a bitter moron at email@example.com