Autonomous Until Death: An Interview With Reducer’s Hooly ‘The Human Aerial’

When Reducer’s newly released self-titled 12″ opens with a calm, unassuming voice saying, “Welcome to the night train,” there’s no hint at the all-out sonic chaos that’s about to ensue. Active in the mid-80s in Northampton, Reducer were as much ahead of their time as they are utterly timeless. Visceral instrumentation with dropkick beats and venom-soaked lyrics and vocals all combine to create the sound of pure energy. Finding kinship and association with Bokeh Versions, this is a story that must be told.

The quintet of Dave ‘Snake’ Mann (RIP), Rich Hill, Dave Exton, Gus Wallace, and J D ‘Hooly’ The Human Aerial began presenting their archive last year and this resurrection is just getting started. It’s time for the second wave to crash down and obliterate any obstacles in the way. This interview with ‘Hooly’ The Human Aerial was conducted in early July via email and as he continues telling the story of Reducer, the fire keeps burning. Find more at their website and support their music via Bandcamp.

So what prompted the resurrection of your cassette archive in the last year or so and pushed you to put some stuff up on Bandcamp? Why now?

I have kept the archive all this time because I knew it was unique, powerful original music that was too good to be on a shelf. The band had long stopped gigging and indeed Snake had died and I’d had a close encounter with mortality not long before. I decided that Reducer deserved a place in the music history of the 80’s – before we all disappeared! 

The fact that we were producing stuff that was fucking brilliant and unique. For instance, no other band outside London ran a reggae dancehall/ragga sound system as well as a band and had symbiosis between the two. Added with the fact we are anarcho libertarian white tattooed baldheads – we pushed every boundary – and I felt that was/is a story/truth that needed preserving. We have a belief in our work; a deeply spiritual motivation – some might say egotistical or evangelical. We say it’s confidence and the inner knowledge that we are but conduits to righteousness and the joyous beauty of universal life, but also humanity’s darkest most depraved behaviors, futile and pathetic narcissist existential angst. We act as a signpost for humans unable to find that which they seek the most, and that lies in front of them, but they are blinded by Babylon and bought off with electronic baubles. 

After my chat with death, I decided I must, at the very least, leave something as a “matter of public record” of who and why and what we were and did. So, after receiving a tax rebate out of the blue I knew it was for me to use to do exactly that – set up a website and make at least one Reducer record (which became Product) – it took a year or two, but slowly word spread that this was happening, aided by a network of friends of the band from when we were a live band/sounds. Word spread via our connections in tattooing and other musicians. We get people’s attention because we were/are still autonomous of the music business and true to our radical ideology and have a sound that’s so unique that it still sounds brand new. The fact it’s mushroomed into a Reducer renaissance is purely “organic” – we didn’t advertise or seek this – it just happened and it’s kept snowballing. I guess now is our time – 35 – 40 years ago it was our time to make this music, now for some reason people finally want to listen to it. The only logical conclusion is we were 35 years ahead of our “complete” time – when both the music and the people find each other and are made whole… fuck knows …

How much is there in the archive anyway? 

Just enough! Plenty but not too much! We are a band with about 10 years of material caught at the moment and frozen in time so I would say we have enough for several singles / EPs and enough for an album. Plus there’s all the peripheral stuff such as T.H.A. [The Human Aerial – ed] and our early pre-vocal days. And then spin-offs and other ideas… there’s more than I thought when I came to digitize it.

So how did you all meet and first get the idea to form Reducer? 

Reducer grew out of the coalition of radical thinkers, doers, and crazies that was at first a vegan/animal rights/Earth rights/human rights anarcho-syndicalist collective that itself grew out of friends all achieving a higher state of consciousness and enlightenment at approximately the same time. This allowed us to see and be things that were previously unavailable to us. 

This [coalition] grew again freely without premeditation into a group of hunt sabbers, a.l.f. Activists, anti-fascist anti-nuke protesters, and activists. Within this were several of us who had been in bands – punks mainly – and we formed a band called The Band of Mercy – a bassist and a drummer (me) with a chorus of 10-12 people to sing our righteous gospel and read statements over music. As this was an unwieldy beast it didn’t last long, but soon morphed into me and Dave (from Bom) talking about getting a ‘proper band’ together. He had been in Bauhaus and I had been in several punk bands and had some success and worked as a solo artist for a while. We fell upon the name via a long story (see website), but we – Snake had joined by now – just knew that it had to be completely fresh and using the genres we loved – punk, reggae, industrial noise, and pounding beats – combined into a wall of consciousness and extreme sound. The rest of the story is on the website.

Where’d the name ‘The Human Aerial’ come from?

I didn’t call myself The Human Aerial for nothing. For me, life is like being mainlined into the universe – everything at 1000 mph – good and bad, sound, vision, emotions, fucking everything; a relentless bombardment. That’s why I did those cut-up voices on the track “Relentless Bombardment” on Product… cause that’s what it feels like. I was so happy when I found that bit of voice recording. It said everything I wanted “human animals in comfortable cages — how can they withstand such a relentless bombardment?” it was about TV’s effect on tribespeople of Polynesia… but of course it’s about the effect on all of us and our safe little boxes. I have drawers full of stuff like that but you get the odd, absolutely perfect one such as Julian Pettifer (top bloke on a documentary about the same effect of TV on aboriginal peoples). I got this one loop where he says, “This is your life – sale of the century” as he listed the shit being pumped at them – fucking genius! It sums it all up. “This is your life – sale of the century. ” Humans have sold their soul for a plastic cracker toy! Wankers. I’m just a channel tuning constantly, but only on things long enough to get it and shred it, or turn it into a mockery of itself, and push it back out in some form of creative medium. Whether it’s voice cut-up and music or video or collage or anything, I can get good at quickly enough to make something worthwhile at the end. Make a statement. Then on to the next. 

The second part of being called The Human Aerial is from having an uncanny ability to get spot-on quotes or words or visuals by seemingly randomly tuning the TV or radio, and something that perfectly encapsulates or takes the piss out of a subject just pops up! All I do is press record on whatever device it is and use them in a different context or even in the same context, but through another medium – tape loops, etc. Early samples I guess you’d call them now. I’ll hear something and then I get the spark with gestalts that keep multiplying… a line in a movie, a line of poetry, or an ad from the TV. I’ll just fuck about with it – slow it down or delay and echo it, keep repeating the same lines and they become mantras, a rhythm, or both. It is my “duty” as The Human Aerial. “As thou shall receive, thou shall transmit.” That’s where my ideas and music come from. I have no choice in the matter. It is like a possession. 

One thing that keeps blowing my mind is that someone could have told me this was a new project and these tunes were recorded this year. It was so far ahead of its time. Back in the mid-80s when you all were active, what all was going on that was inspiring your sound and pushing you in this direction?

How long have you got? The 80s were a fucking nightmare. Thatcher sold the family crown jewels and soul of society, using the police as her own private army for stamping on any dissent. The tearing down of old buildings and woodland to build machines that build more machines or for shopping malls. Mass unemployment and mass deception like the Falklands – there was so much to aim at that was wrong. You can’t imagine the levels of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc that were prevalent at the time. All the Amazon rainforest and environmental shit was happening then, but probably worse! “The environment is a thing to be exploited, fuck the consequences you tree-hugging crusty druggie won’t work ungrateful unwashed subject – if you don’t like it we’ll beat you up and lock you up for it chum!” The sucking up of punk and selling it back as Hazel O’Connor or Kim Wild or The Boomtown Rats new wave synth-pop – all the appalling bands celebrating 18th-century clothing and hair gel crossed with fatuous bullshit lyrics about being popular or in love. And the selling out of many that had just seen punk as a fashion not a state of mind. The same old labels, same old music business. 

Also, the fact that we became aware of other cultures properly and found recognition and solace in their teachings, art, and music. Discovering the origins of tattoos and body modification and using them and the subsequent designs for our own versions of tattoos and piercings. 

Northampton was a soulless concrete car park and industrial estate in that decade. We had to fight back – there was no choice. When the fascists start running things you better get it up. We did. Not to mention the shoots of the IT Revolution were showing – the future of machines and computers to come. We were warning of this global greenwash then as the massive manufacturing and heavy industries went to 3rd world countries. The fascists had to replace the type of work that the proles do to keep them in the manner to which they had become accustomed. To quote one of my tape loops, “Information technology will lead to the reindustrialization of America” – i.e. Microsoft, Apple, Google blah blah. You were warned but no one listened. As long as you get the new shiny toy, the company can mine your entire life’s details for free and so what? Control, that’s what. 

What was the scene around Northampton like back then? Any particular wild stories? 

We lived at a thousand miles an hour. We fit into each year more than most people did in a lifetime. We did it on strong drugs and alcohol, and we did it for decades before and after Reducer. If you wanted to keep up, you had to be on it. We were scared of none and we scared plenty. Because of our collective beginnings, we had surety and confidence. We knew we were front line and at the vanguard and we liked it. And we were good at it. 

So whilst the rest of Northampton bands were ‘old’ punk bands, desperately and suddenly changing into synth new wave wannabes, by default we became the authentic face of alternative underground Northampton. Not being big-headed, it’s just how it was. We were for real and we didn’t need to change. It took a collective of rarely found, creative, motivated, willing to stand up and be counted people to kick start the conscious movement that sparked the Reducer fire. 

Every day was a wild story! Living on the edge, both creatively and using large quantities of substances to enhance, or open doors to subconscious abilities and clarity of vision; being involved in activism and direct action. People were scared of us because we upset their safe little balance, like turning up to gigs and saying “we’re Reducer we don’t support no one!” (just for a laugh) and ending up headlining as the main (a well known and label released Peel-y favorite) band bottled it when told we wouldn’t back down! And then we were a massive sensation and it’s one of those gigs that goes down in legend…

You play a lot of different things on these recordings… Guitar, keyboard, tapes, rhythm generators… What’s your background as far as learning to play and make music and how’d you get into all these different things? 

I was very lucky as a child because my older brothers left a great selection of vinyl behind so from age 5 I had Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Jimi’s Are You Experienced?, The Doors, Cream, The Velvets… So I grew up listening to very progressive music. It gave me a good grounding in what is cool and what is shit. The same can be said of the other guys. We all had a good idea of what was good and bad music-wise before we all finally incarnated as Reducer. It doesn’t mean we magically had the skills, but it felt like being possessed when we played. Reducer never rehearsed or wrote things down; practiced maybe three times in nine years. Every track we made was spontaneous, improvised, and unrehearsed, which all added to our unique sound. As well, the way we recorded our tracks – one take – one mix onto cassette – a dub version (usually) and we were done. As the mixer, I don’t remember doing more than 3 or 4 overdubs in the entire archive. 

I can’t play any instrument in the ‘learned’ or the ‘orthodox’ way. I started messing about with sound during recording John Peel tracks as I bounced the tracks down to a mixtape, using voices and noises to make rhythms and rhymes and loops. Then I got access to instruments via other people as I made friends at punk gigs, blues parties, and sound systems. I got a job and bought some bit of kit (or “borrowed” it from one of those bands who have everything flightcased and stenciled and an 11 piece Gretsch drum kit and real Fenders all paid for by mummy). 

In those days drum machines were just coming onto the market, but as every band that didn’t have a drummer had one, it was hard to get an original sound. So I would put it through guitar pedal and delays and stuff or build up rhythms on tape loops on the copy cat. Then, as more sophisticated rhythm generators came along, I made a point of getting one as soon as it was available. Since Reducer didn’t have a full-time drummer, we relied on them to supply the beats for gigs so someone had to get on it and it just happened to be me. 

Although I didn’t pick up a guitar until Reducer, it wasn’t an obstacle. As I say, I just play whatever it is until it sounds good to me and hit record. I’d put the combo on top of another cab or stage box so it was at waist height which was great for feedback as all you have to do is turn and face it and it’s off. Simple things like that. And using the right echo and open tuning with a slide helped me shape my guitar sound so it was as I wanted and forgave my so-called technical “inabilities.” I can’t play the guitar any other way. Never tried, not interested. I mean once you’ve heard Jimi, what’s the point? There are a billion wannabe guitarists who can “play.” Who gives a fuck? Try and do something different. That’s all you can do. Get the kit and the rest will come, same as I’ve always done with drums with keyboards too. 

Just as I can’t “play” any instrument in what’s perceived as the correct way, it was the same with a mixing desk – I’d just use it in my way and that’s the way I like it. If I wanted to learn “music,” then I would have, thanks. Throughout my musical life, I’ve only made music and sound I liked. If other people liked it, cool, but I never played one note thinking, “Will people like this?” If you didn’t, then fuck off. You’re in my way. Go and listen to Eric Crapton or boy bands like The Beatles and let me get on with it. Positive energy about my music from others I respect is righteous stuff, but it’s not the reason I do it. 

Again, I still can’t get my head around just how incredible this music is and how it’s just flown off the radar for so long. Why do you think there was never a ‘break’ for you all back then? 

We didn’t want one. We didn’t look for one. It’s not why we did it. Still isn’t. We wanted ideally to be fully autonomous, but we couldn’t afford to do the gigs and recordings and actually get it made into vinyl, so that’s what we “sacrificed.” End product. 

U Sound was starting around the same time and as we had mutual friends, like Annie Anxiety and other anarcho bands like Antisect, one thing led to another and Mr. Sherwood invited us to London to talk about a potential U Sound release. We went to the gig (Mark Stewart and The Mafia – absolutely fucking brilliant) and sat with the “VIPs” – in this case, Mr. Sherwoood and Sigue Sigue Sputnik (hahahah they were scared of us – and wore hairnets hahahah) – and we talked about the possibility of working together, but he wanted to produce it and as far as we were and are concerned, it was produced, thank you, and just needed releasing. We agreed to disagree and went our separate ways.

Back then, the open freedom of punks “make your own record” thing had been sucked up like everything and sold back to us as indie label new wave, but it was all bought or owned by the same big labels, companies, and corporations. There were one or two exceptions, but the “music business” relies on mutual back-scratching. We didn’t – wouldn’t – why should we? No sell-out. Take the music that’s on offer or fuck off. But they never do. They always want their little parasitic drop of blood, whether it’s trying to change your sound or the art on the sleeve of your record. We refused to play that game and thus had no profile. You had to play the game – I expect most still do – but I got lucky with a little money and the rest is history. So Reducer has “made it” despite the music business. You can’t beat that feeling. Name another band who’s done that.

What’s your biggest regret with Reducer?

None. We had a mission. We did what we liked and we were fucking good at it. We didn’t care whether anyone else liked it, or needed to justify it with sales figures. Also, because this spontaneous resurrection would never have happened – it’s not supernatural bunkum or the ramblings of an acid casualty – all the ridiculous, interconnected-yet-seemingly-random events that are happening at the moment are linked by forces that as soft. Western white people have become insensitive or are unaware of it due to maleducation, amongst other things. Trust me. I know. Reducer has a life of its own. Things happen that are at once surprising and seemingly random, yet when several of these things happen in a very short period of time, they become a whole new branch of our tree of life… Such as being able to restore and post-produce our 40-year-old on-stage light show video into a film. 

Now there’s something new happening at the moment that has a higher chance of being coincidental than winning the lottery. Each part came to Reducer without solicitation, from different parts of the earth and from people who have never met once in any way, but all make a big picture now they are put together. That’s normal for Reducer. I was looking forward to some rest after the EP and USB video releases, but noooooo… People gotta go and start getting ideas.

Also, more recently… How’d you get associated with the bokeh crew? Being deeply familiar with the work they do, I can definitely understand their excitement in the connection.

Bokeh and Reducer met one rainy night after both missing the same train. Seriously though, I think he contacted us in the first instance, asking if copies of product were still available. Or it might be he inquired about the cassette release we did. I don’t fucking remember. I’m 60 years old and spent 33 of them on life-threatening levels of drugs and alcohol. I don’t remember what I had for breakfast! I do know he and I get on and work very well and that’s a rare thing for me. He’s a colossus and an absolutely perfect match for Reducer. Autonomous, independent, and up for it. He is an honorary member for his stalwart work and promotion of Reducer and the forces of righteousness. Pure life energy will have seen that. This is a very rewarding relationship, and to Reducer, the reward is feeling good, not having a pocket full of money. I’m skint, but I’m a billionaire. Big up Bokeh and the Bristol massive.

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