Of Horror-Filled Synths, & Brooding Noise [2016-08-02]For the last few years Darren Charles has been active with-in the northern English retro synth /experimental/ noise underground. He’s connected with projects such as The Dead End Street Band, and more recently Equestrian Vortex. He has also arranged quite a few local shows, bringing together experimental sounds with cult horror movies. As well as having his own weekly on-line radio show, and contributing to the recent & excellent book Horror Folk Revival: Field Studies. Darren kindly agreed to give M[m] a email interview.
M[m]: Much of your work’s focus( either with your sonic projects, or with your radio show) is retro horror. What are some of your earliest horror memories, and were they any particular horror films, books, or art that made a real impact on you?
Darren As a child the first things to really have an impact on me in that way were those classic Hammer and Amicus titles that would often appear late at night on terrestrial TV. Tales from the Crypt, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, Dracula AD 1972 stuff like that. I was allowed to stay up late on a weekend, and my Dad would often watch them. That was my introduction to horror. I used to love the portmanteau titles, there were always at least a couple of stories that were really creepy in each one. The TV series of the same era also played a big part in my discovery of horror, Tales of the Unexpected, Hammer House of Horror, Salem's Lot, stuff like that. The House that Bled To Death from Hammer House of Horror was one that stuck with me and was a huge topic of conversation in the school yard the next day.
Darren Other than that I had the Hamlyn Horror book, which I think everyone of my age owned. Many of the iconic images of horror came from that book, and whenever we'd go shopping to Sainsbury's I'd browse the lurid Pan paperbacks and the many movie tie-ins on display like The Exorcist or The Omen.
M[m]:Tell us a little bit about how your first got into creating you own music? And what was your first piece of kit?
Darren I've played the guitar very badly from the age of about 12 or 13. I've always had a guitar around since then, however it wasn't until about 6 or 7 years ago that I started getting into experimenting with electronica. My first bits of kit were a Digitech multi-fx pedal, a Squire Strat and a Korg Kaoss Pad. I also had a cheap 4-track I bought from ebay for about 6 quid. That's essentially what I used on the very early Dead End Street Band recordings, I started adding in new gear after that. The Monotrons, Electribe EA-1 and Monotribe all came later and have provided me with a greater arsenal of sounds.
M[m]:You mention playing guitar first- what attracted you to this instrument? And did you ever play guitar in any bands, or was it just purely playing by yourself?
Darren I was a big thrash metal fan as a teenager and my heroes were people like James Hetfield, Jeff Hanneman, Mille Petroza, Scott Ian and Alex Skolnick. I was pretty rubbish to be fair and didn't play in any bands. I did sing in a thrash metal band called Sanitarium though, we rehearsed quite a bit but never played any gigs.
M[m]:Your sonic work focuses in on retro electronics- tell us a bit about what retro instruments/ kit you presently own/ use? And what would you like to get in the future?
Darren As already mentioned I have 2 Monotrons, the basic version and the delay. I have an Electribe EA-1, A Monotribe, A Kaoss Pad, A Digitech multi-fx pedal, a wah pedal and a distortion pedal. I'd really like to get my hands on a few items of kit for future recordings, the MS-20 from Korg and the Arturia Microbrute, and of course I can dream of owning an EMS VCS-3.
M[m]:Much of your work has retro horror soundtrack leanings- please list five of your favourite soundtracks, and explain why you like them?
Darren In no particular order:
Suspiria, simply because it's terrifying and ahead of its time.
Deep Red, which is actually my favourite Goblin album.
City of the Living Dead, is my favourite Fabio Frizzi soundtrack. It has a wonderfully creepy atmosphere.
The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue has a wonderful creepy electronic score.
The Legend of Hell House...Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson need I say anything else?
M[m]:You most recent & active project is Equestrian Vortex-please tell us a little bit about the projects origins & why did you chose the name?
Darren It was something that sprang from a desire to work with Tony again after he left The Dead End Street band. He was looking to try something different and I was also up for a change to the old formula, so we decided to work on something together. The idea was to create something influenced more by electronic horror soundtracks, krautrock and stuff like Demdike Stare rather than avant garde noise. The result was The Equestrian Vortex, whose name we stole from Peter Strickland's classic film Berberian Sound Studio. We are both fans of the amazing soundtrack recorded by Broadcast, and it made sense to us to use the name of the fake band from that movie.
M[m]:Equestrian Vortex most recent released album is the excellent Electronic Ritual on Reverb Worship. I really feel it’s some of your best & most focused work thus far- over what period of time does this material come from? And do you see any themes running through this material?
Darren It was recorded at various sessions over the last year or so. These are some of our favourite tracks from that period. I think that we perhaps have another album's worth of material floating around that's of a decent enough standard to release, but we're leaning more and more towards working on new more interesting and diverse material. We'll see what happens.
M[m]:I first become aware of you though The Dead End Street Band- is this project now no more? And what do you see as some of the highlights released by this project?
Darren The Dead End Street Band are currently on hiatus whilst each of us works on other projects. There have been four members of the DESB over the years and we each have other projects, myself and Tony have The Equestrian Vortex, Chris has Church Burner and Joseph Curwen has his solo work.
Darren It's really difficult to choose favourite releases, however I really liked Songs of Aiwass which was released on Altar of Waste, Psychedelic Sacrifice on Occult Supremacy and Bombs Rain Down on Innsmouth which was released on cassette by Agoraphobia from Mexico. The Stone Tape and Murder have tracks I'm very proud of and the Satan's Claw sessions were fun, but they weren't always as fully realised as they could be. The track we released on the South of Hebburn CD called The Lost Tapes.
M[m]:since 2014 you’ve done a weekly hour long radio show called Unearthing Forgotten Horror- which sees you play all manner obscure horror soundtracks, dark drones, weird electronica, crazed kosmiche and some of the most abhorrent and twisted psychedelia. Tell us how the idea for this first came about? And do you think the show has changed over the years?
Darren It started as a one off broadcast to promote a live event we'd put together featuring English Heretic, Black Mountain Transmitter, The Psychogeographical Commision, Culver, Joseph Curwen, TDESB and Tempel of Sekhmet, alongside the films Blood On Satan's Claw and The Stone Tape. Melmoth the Wanderer had created a special hour long mix featuring the music of all 6 bands and Basic FM the internet radio station broadcast it on Halloween. The broadcast was so popular Basic FM asked me if I'd like my own show. I took the opportunity and ran with it, it was a chance to get some amazing new music played alongside some forgotten soundtrack material. The show has continued to evolve, it now features less soundtrack material than it did initially but the emphasis remains on music with a dark edge to it.
M[m]:Tell us a little bit about how you decide what to play on each show? And does each show have a theme?
Darren I really just play what I want to listen to. It's really just the music I've been listening to on the way to work, or while sat on my computer reading emails and checking facebook. It really is just a case of whatever takes my fancy at the time.
M[m]:You were involved with the Horror Folk Revival: Field Studies book- tell us a little bit about how this project came to fruition & how you got involved?
Darren I got involved in the Folk Horror Revival group on Facebook right from its inception. Andy Paciorek got in touch with me after the first UFH live event and we got talking. He'd already created a Folk Horror page on Facebook but wanted to take the next step and create the FHR group. We launched it less than 18 months ago now and already we have accumulated over 12,000 members. The group continues to go from strength to strength and we have since launched a website, a book imprint and have even printed FHR t-shirts. The book was an idea that Andy germinated last summer, the whole thing came together quite quickly. We found people were happy to contribute and freely gave their time and words to help raise money for the Wildlife Trusts. Andy asked me to write a piece on Unearthing Forgotten Horrors, and I had connections with Kim Newman, who was happy to be interviewed for the book so that was really exciting. To appear in print alongside such luminaries as Kim Newman, Philip Pullman, Thomas Ligotti, Gary Lachman and Kat Ellinger was a real privelege, that will live with me forever. We are preparing more bookd for later in the year, next up is a poetry book called Corpse Roads and after that we are planning a book on music called Harvest Hymns for which I have contributed a few more interviews and articles. Jim Peters, another admin of the Folk Horror Revival group is bringing this book together and it's looking like it will be another fantastic read.
M[m]:In the past you have been involved in arranging live events in your local area, that bring together cult film & dark experimental sounds. Have you got any more planned, and have you ever thought of holding such an event in London? Darren To answer your questions, Unearthing Forgotten Horrors is on hold for the moment. The venue of the last two events has closed down, and they are currently redeveloping a new site. Once that is open we shall be looking to start events again.
Darren I am also currently developing an idea with Andy for a Folk Horror Revival event to run in Newcastle in 2017, but we are at a very early stage and can't say too much at this time. As for London, keep your eyes and ears open for a Folk Horror event later in the year, again I will let you know more about that as and when I can.
M[m]:What’s lined up next for your various projects?
Darren The Dead End Street Band are on a hiatus at the moment. There are no plans to do anything at present.
The Equestrian Vortex will be looking at perhaps doing some gigs and getting back into the studio for a new CD later in the year. We are going to be working on something quite exciting with some other musicians, but we can't really say anything about that at present. Everyone involved is really enthused about it, it promises to be quite an exciting project.
Folk Horror Revival have a lot of exciting things in the pipeline. We've just released another book, Corpse Roads, a poetry and photography book. We have an event coming up at the British Museum in October, and another planned for Newcastle in 2017. Andy Paciorek and I are speaking at the Alchemical Landscape symposium at Cambridge University on July 7th alongside Gary Parsons and Adam Scovell, and we're working on a music book called Harvest Hymns with Jim Peters editing. So as you can see we're pretty busy at the moment.
Thanks to Darren for his time & efforts with the interview. Equestrian Vortex is still available from Reverb Worship- their website is here. To find out more about the two Folk Horror books & purchase direct head over to here. And Unearthing Forgotten Horror show is presently every Monday night, to find out more head to hereRoger Batty