L-RAD – Story

The L-RAD-Story

L-RAD: Judge and Steve

Judge writes:
Steve Defoe and I have been corresponding regularly for over 13 years, first by post and tape-letters, later by email. Steve lives in Connecticut, New England, on the East Coast of the USA, and during this long friendship we have met on only four occasions.

Until 2000, Steve was one half of an experimental, avant-garde and thoroughly ‘alt’ music ensemble, ‘The Larry Mondello Band’, who produced a considerable number of recordings, mostly issued on cassette, during the 1980s and ‘90s. The Mondellos’ music is raw and unpredictable, with slabs of noise and found-sounds interspersed with thrashing guitars, primitive synthesizer cacophony and maniacal household percussion. It’s often violent and very dark, but I was always delighted
by the humour and gleeful lunacy to be found on almost every track.

After Steven’s musical partner, ‘Scooch’ Dromgoole, died in 2000, Steve and I began to talk, in the vaguest terms, about the possibility of doing some music together at some point in the future, but it was more than five years before other commitments allowed a space for us to seriously consider whether this might actually be a practical proposal.

‘Scooch’ Dromgoole

Music Technology had moved on apace in this time, and both Steve and I now had digital audio facilities of one sort or another, and sufficient practical experience with them to make a collaborative, trans-Atlantic project feasible. We decided to give it a try, but without having any idea of what sort of music we wanted to do. Steve volunteered to get the ball rolling, and said he would send me a few things on CD which I could edit and add to, and which might become the basis for possible album tracks.

Steve’s CD arrived in February 2006, and was the first of dozens that went to and fro by post, over the next year and nine months. I began editing Steve’s extraordinary material and adding instruments, and quite early in the process, it became apparent that despite huge differences in our musical styles, something rather remarkable was emerging; a bizarre and (for me) invigorating synthesis of two completely contrasting musical worlds.

Though I have always striven to make innovative, unusual music, my musical palate and language is relatively conservative and conventional. I write music for the instruments of the standard Rock Band, the orchestra and the choir, and the better it’s played, the better I like it. My songs have recognisable, carefully contrived structures, and when I sing, I try to do ‘good’ singing.

Steve also strives to be unusual and innovative, but there the similarity ends. Steve’s favourite raw material is noise and the most bizarre and peculiar of sounds. He plays guitar and keyboards, but prefers these to sound extreme and distorted. His instrumental technique is, or appears to be, rudimentary, and his compositions are, or appear to be, unstructured. When he sings, his favourite technique is to bellow or croon into a hand-held, lo-fi, digital voice recorder, while driving his car, and without reference to any backing tracks.

All this makes him sound like a musical naïf, or an out-of-control wildman, but nothing could be further from the truth. He knows exactly what he’s doing, and his effects are achieved with considerable care, labour and experimentation. A cultured man with a much wider appreciation of music in general than I have, he is, in fact, a highly sophisticated artist, whose chosen mode of expression just happens to be Bloody Weird Noises. Every track on our album, with two exceptions, has grown from initial tracks created by Steve.

If I wanted to get pretentious about all this (oh, perish the thought, Judge!) I would say that the contrast between the musical direction of Steve and myself, is in fact an almost perfect expression of the two opposing faces of art, the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Apollo imposes order, values clarity, sets boundaries, builds beautiful structures, and works with light, logic and reason, while Dionysus creates chaos, values ambiguity, respects no boundaries, brings joyful destruction, and works with darkness, intuition and madness.

What the hell?

Steve writes:
Wow Judge, what the hell does that mean?

Judge writes:
This pair of opposites, said the Ancients, are in contrast, but they should not be in conflict; and so it proved for us. We had a real ball Making this Thing, with hardly a difference of opinion between us throughout the long process.

It has done me a world of good to work with this material, and, quite frankly, now it’s done, I’m thrilled with the results.

Steve writes:
To collaborate with Judge Smith is truly something beyond my wildest imagination. Of course I knew his songs after so many years of Van der Graaf and Hammill fandom, all the great stuff from Viking to Been Alone So Long, his work with Lene Lovich, Democrazy and Curly’s Airships – Judge is a real musician, a composer at the highest level. And he actually liked The Larry Mondello Band! I couldn’t believe it when he suggested we make a recording, it was even more amazing to discover that he not
only heard the ridiculous tunes I only half-imagined, but he was also willing and able to translate them into actual flesh and blood sounds, in tune even! What a strange world this can be…