Interview with Silent Star by Tzina Dovve (DJ Lady Davinia)
Silent Star… A brand new act act to emerge on the London dark/goth scene pandemic days… Newcomers talk to Absolution NYC about their genesis, lockdown and plans for the future… A small insight… Silent Star… By Tzina Dovve ( DJ Lady Davinia )…
Tzina: Firstly, Happy New Year and welcome to Absolution… Silent Star are a brand new act to emerge on the London dark/goth/alternative scene in 2021. When and how exactly were you formed and who are the members of this act? What prompted you to form to begin with?
● Hello to you Tzina and to your lovely readers too! Silent Star are myself and Andy Bowker, our drummer. We were in a band previously, with me on bass, that ended when the singer finally got tired of singing about what were by then his ex-girlfriends, or possibly affairs (small tip: never write about your own relationships – one day you may feel really awkward about those lyrics). To prove a point that rhythm sections do not get the credit they deserve, we decided to show that singers and guitarists are not needed when synthesisers and sequencers exist. However, synthesised vocals sound terrible, so I have reluctantly taken on the dubious title of the singer. We got going in late 2019 and managed one gig before the world closed down, but we’ve been making up for it ever since we started creeping towards this approximation of normality.
Tzina: What is the story behind the name ‘Silent Star’? Does this title have some sort of symbolic meaning to you?
● ‘The Silent Star’ is a 1959 science-fiction film, a joint Polish and East German production. Now I have very little time for sci-fi, it’s generally awful, but the latter parts of the film are visually stunning – surrealist, futurist, vibrant and ethereal visions of what it would be like on Venus. More important, though, is the background to and production of the film, which encapsulates some of the contradictions of eastern bloc communism. An ethnically diverse cast deliver an internationalist message of diversity and peace, but it’s an entirely forced one, dictated to the film’s producers by the Polish and DDR governments, the latter of which would soon be sealing West Berlin from the rest of Germany with a big wall. Oh, and I’m half Polish and my girlfriend is from Germany, which has become my second home, so I tend to look fondly on examples of co-operation between the two countries rather than the more familiar conflict.
Tzina: Your music so far has an extremely dark eighties feel to it with dominant synths and haunting vocals. Can we music fans expect more of this style of songs in the near future? What are your main musical influences?
● Reverb, chorus and analogue synth strings, nothing more is needed. Well, perhaps rougher sounds of the first European Coldwave bands and add the rhythms of later Italo, New Beat plus early 2000s Electroclash. The latter is the most criminally overlooked genre, a perfect combination of glamour, melancholy and beats. We were aiming to rehabilitate that sound but got distracted by the emergence of so many brilliant dark and coldwave bands in recent years – Void Vision, Sixth June, Terrorbird to name a few. Whatever sounds we produce in the future, we won’t lose the elements that you list, they are the essence of Silent Star.
Tzina: As I understand you only just released two digital tracks via Bandcamp late September 2021 with the titles ‘Star Of The Sea’ and ‘To Hell Or To Hackney (Too Late)’. What feedback have these tracks received so far?
● The songs are on Spotify and elsewhere now too, and the feedback has all been unnervingly positive. The video has had 30,000 views on YouTube and has led to reviews, features and more gigs. The direct feedback from comments on the video has been really interesting, a lot of comparisons to Bauhaus and Clan of Xymox, which is obviously very flattering but also quite surprising as we had neither bands in mind when writing or recording. I had no idea online commenters could be so nice, probably because I’d spent too much time on Politics Twitter. It’s all been quite a shock because the two songs are just home recordings that we made so that we could have something, anything, online to maybe get some gigs and see if there would be any interest in the band. They were made during lockdown so Andy and I had to email the recordings of our parts to each other. I did mine in the living room without a clue what I was doing, I think you can even hear double-decker buses going by in some parts, though covered in delay and reverb, of course. We mixed and produced them ourselves and it was quite a learning curve. I’d say that it kept me sane during lockdown but trying to get my head around compression ratios and spectral spacing possibly made it worse. Either way, it all goes to show that there is still value in the DIY spirit of punk.
Tzina: Where do you derive your inspiration from to write such dark melodies? How is a Silent Star tune brought to life? Are you currently working on new music?
● Spending your later teenage years driving endlessly and aimlessly around Thamesmead at night, you probably won’t write too many party singalongs after that. For those outside Britain, Thamesmead is a 1970s new town in London built on reclaimed marshland by the Thames and envisaged as a modernist utopia of brutalist terraces and high rises. It did not quite turn out as hoped. The town is best known as providing many of the locations for Stanley Kubrik’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’. That scene where Alex knifes Dim in the water, our secondary school took us canoeing in that lake one day. We spent most of our time counting the shopping trolleys that had been lobbed into the water. It wasn’t exactly an idyllic experience but I’ve been fixated with the architecture ever since. One review of ‘Star Of The Sea’ was headlined ‘The Rhythm of Concrete Walls’, which describes our sound better than I ever could. I’ve always been as excited by Denys Lasdyn or Alison and Peter Smithson as I have by New Order or Depeche Mode. One’s relationship with space, with one’s physical environment is of more importance to our songs than the relationship between people, not because the latter doesn’t matter but because it’s pretty much been covered already. And it’s not just the urban that inspires. Listen closely and you’ll hear me pining for the bleak and desolate wilderness of Ireland’s west coast, of Erris in County Mayo, where my old man grew up and where I spent every summer as a child. I’d say that as an environment it is the antithesis of London’s metropolis, but then frequent rain can be expected in both places. Hopefully soon you’ll have more than two songs of ours to judge whether any of that actually comes through in the music or if I’m deluding myself. We have more than an album’s worth of songs written and want to record two of them as soon as we can – in a proper studio this time, not our living rooms – to release as a second single. It’s just a matter of finding an appropriate studio in London and a producer who’ll understand the sound! So if you know anyone…
Tzina: Silent Star have become a member of the German label ‘Young & Cold Records’ since November of last year. How did this come about for such a new band and how does it feel to be a part of this record label family?
● ‘Young & Cold’ are home to some of the best new and underground darkwave bands around, plus the Electroclash great that is Ascii Disko, so we’re pretty happy to be a part of the family. ‘Young & Cold’ run a studio as well as a label so we’d actually sent the home recording of ‘Star Of The Sea’ to them just for mastering and they apparently liked it so much that they asked what else we had recorded. I gave them the other three songs we’d recorded in lockdown and they’ll all be released on a vinyl EP in spring.
Tzina: As I understand you also released a music video for your debut single ‘Star Of The Sea’ on YouTube in October 2021. How important is the visual side of a band to you? Do you believe videos are just as fundamental as one’s music today? Are there any more Silent Star videos in the pipeline?
● It brings me no joy to say it, but it’s almost pointless releasing a song now without a video. I don’t think we’d have got a fraction of the attention that we have without the video for ‘Star Of The Sea’. So much music is now consumed on mobile devices on which we’ve become accustomed to having visual as well as aural stimulation that you just won’t get noticed unless you provide something to look at. Spotify proudly trumpets the higher engagement rates that songs on there with visuals receive, and the figures don’t lie. And yes, on one hand it is an extra medium for creativity and a chance to express oneself in more than just sounds, but it also places a great burden on bands starting out, plus not all musicians make for great designers or video editors, I don’t know how handy Mark E Smith would have been with iMovie. We will soon be releasing the second of the two-part video series that ‘Star Of The Sea’ was the opener to, this time for ‘To Hell Or To Hackney’. It’s very much in the same vein and should have been released much sooner, but alas spare time has not been forthcoming. It’s actually cover artwork that I’ve always found the most exciting visual aspect of music, the combination of design, typography and photography (and yes, I am thinking of Peter Saville as I write this). That’s one of the reasons why we’re so happy to have a 12” record coming out, there’s no better medium for showing off cover design.
Tzina: Although a new act Silent Star have performed a number of gigs around London so far, including a performance at ‘The Dark Eighties’ at Nambucca and most recently at ‘Reptile’ at The Electrowerkz. How were those experiences for you as a new band on the dark/goth/alternative scene at these two very successful events?
● People had actually come to see us! It was amazing. Like most bands, at our earliest gigs we were just cobbled together on bills with other groups who maybe sounded slightly similar but mostly had nothing in common. So it was brilliant to play to ‘our’ crowd and to people who understand the music. The average London gig audience is notoriously hard to please, but fans of darker music are different and so much more appreciative than Indie kids who can get their fix of brown guitar music any night of the week. These goth nights are events. We get ready listening to Sisters Of Mercy, we dress up, we hit the town, we dance to Skinny Puppy and we wonder how the black hair and clothes dye industries would cope without us.
Tzina: Despite all the uncertainty surrounding us once again with this never-ending pandemic do you have any live shows planned for 2022? Are there any particular cities you would like to perform in?
● Why NYC, of course! If anyone reading this knows of any promoters there or has a floor we can sleep on… In London, we’re playing a ‘SC&P Live’ night at the Shacklewell in east London this Thursday (January 20th), plus we’ll be doing another night for ‘Reptile’ at some point and playing ‘New Cross Dark’, a new night in south London, around Easter. There are too many cities to list that we’d love to play in. And 100 per cent of the band travels on Irish passports (which I believe makes us more Irish than U2, or something like that), so we need to make use of our Brexit-proof ability to travel across Europe.
Tzina: How much do you think this pandemic of the last two years will have an effect on the music and live industry? Do you think streaming and the virtual world for bands will be a permanent part of the music world? What are your views on this virtual world?
● Bands streaming live shows from their living rooms, DJs playing sets from their bedrooms or cubicles in Berlin – unfortunately I will always associate these things with the beginning of lockdown and almost losing my mind, so it’s hard to view them positively now! The main motivation for starting this band was to play live, in front of crowds, for the rush, the energy and the cynergy of the interaction between the performer and audience. Plus one doesn’t live in a city like London of 8 million people if one isn’t fond of seeing faces and lots of them. Lockdown probably only sped up a process that was happening anyway, and if the medium exists why not use it to reach people who couldn’t otherwise see you perform? The two can co-exist and streamed shows can be just as useful as a promo video for getting people to come to in-person shows. Of greater threat to live music in London is the property market, the obscenely high rents and land value that make it difficult for venues to keep going. That and the fact that too few people are forming bands because there are just too many other options.
Tzina: Over the past few years there has been a surge of new dark/synth bands on the global dark/goth/alternative scene? Do you think there is some sort of dark eighties goth revival happening at the moment? How do you view the scene in London?
● It does feel like it and in London there are more clubs now that blur the lines between Goth and Dark or Cold Wave as well as EBM and early Synth Industrial, so maybe there’s been a swing to the eighties side of things. It’s quite hard to judge how widespread it all is, though. It may just be the demon algorithms on social media and streaming services creating bubbles that block out anything with vocals that aren’t drowning in delay and reverb. Plus all those streamed gigs and DJ sets we watched during lockdown, suddenly we could see performances of music we love much more often, perhaps giving the impression that there is more of it when really we were just no longer confined to our own towns because we were watching shows from across the globe. Maybe it will become clearer in six months’ time when/if our abilities to perceive have returned.
Tzina: Thank you for your time Silent Star. Is there anything else you would like to share with your fans? What can they expect from you in 2022?
● Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. Our message for 2022 is simple: Vote Labour in the local elections in May (and apologies to those outside the UK to whom this is irrelevant advice)