Put simply, The Black Dog is one of the most enduring techno acts in electronic music, having released in excess of ten albums over a career history that spans four decades. The Sheffield act has had Ken Downie as its central member since the beginning, though with the addition of Richard and Martin Dust in 2001, The Black Dog has become more prolific than ever. The three producers issue a constant stream of music that revolves primarily around techno, with excursions into more ambient realms occasionally as well. Far from the vaunted youthful pursuits of fame and endless touring, the three spend the majority of their time in the studio, which goes a long way to explaining both the high quality and quantity of material they release. Little White Earbuds got in touch with the trio to talk about studio duties, trolling the RA forums, and how an unfortunate airport incident left Ken with a lifelong disdain for aviation authority (but garnered us an album in the process). The guys were also kind enough to put together our 164th exclusive podcast — an hour of compelling techno that gathers some of their favorite tunes of the minute with cuts from their new album, Tranklements.
Download LWE Podcast 164: The Black Dog (59:11)
01. The Black Dog, “Internal Collapse” [Dust Science]
02. Markus Suckut, “Path” [Figure]
03. Ucleden, “At Peace” (Live Mix) [Broque]
04. Murmur, “Rumah” (James Fox Remix) [Church]
05. Exium, “Massless Particle” [PoleGroup 16]
06. Cosmin TRG, “Defeated Hearts Club 1” [50 Weapons]
07. Forward Strategy Group, “Code 3” [Perc Trax]
08. Inland, “Solstice (Lost)” [Counterchange Recordings]
09. Markus Suckut, “Rigid” [Figure]
10. The Black Dog, “Pray Crash II” [Dust Science]
11. Stutter, “Rumah” (Apes & Seb Wildblood Remix) [Church]
12. Ucleden, “What We Are” [Broque]
13. The Third Man, “Double Dawn” [EPM Music]
14. Joran Van Pol, “Conscious” [M_nus]
15. Exium, “Nucleoid” [PoleGroup 16]
16. Diamond Version, “Get Yours” [Mute Artists Limited]
So to start, perhaps Ken you could tell us about starting up the motors of The Black Dog again. How long had the project properly been in hiatus and what was it that lead you to revive it?
Ken: Eh? I never went anywhere! With the previous lineup, we made the decision to concentrate on remixes for other people. Maybe some folks do still wish that I had buggered off on a hiatus. But that’s not the case. I’ve been busy with TBD since 1989, in one way or another.
Martin and Richard you guys came on board for the Radio Scarecrow album, but you had known each other for quite some time hadn’t you? How did you all originally meet?
Martin: We joined TBD in 2003 and started work on Silenced and started the label Dust Science. We took our time with those releases, there was no rush and Silenced was eventually released in 2005. Radio Scarecrow was our second album together and that was released in 2008. I knew Ken from running BBS sites at the start of TBD and before “The Internet”; we’ve been friends for a long time now. We get on really well and we’re mates more than anything. We’ve nothing to prove to each other so we do what we want and enjoy what we do, easy really.
Had you ever previously worked on music together? How long did it take before you were all happy with what you were making with each other?
Martin: Well like most things, we are friends first. We all love technology and games so our friendship grew from there. We’d still be friends if we didn’t make music together. We would talk about things for a long time and we used the Bite Thee Back EP as a way of finding a working method and to find the directions we all wanted to take.
Richard: It was an easy relationship from the outset. Nobody makes big demands or has unrealistic expectations. I don’t think any of us would tolerate any over-sized egos.
Ken: I was very happy when Martin and Rich joined. It’s harder being a solo artist, because you have nobody to bounce your ideas and experimentation off of. Friends and family often tell you what they think you want to hear.
In terms of being in the studio, do you each have specific talents? Do you kind of have separate responsibilities or strengths you play up to?
Martin: Not really. Richard is much better at mastering and sorting levels than me or Ken but that’s about as far as splitting the work up goes. We have a large server where we share all of our tracks, parts and samples so we’re all free to dip into anything. It’s pretty easy really when you are working on things on a daily basis.
Richard: Sharing the work in that way can be very rewarding. One of us could be at a dead-end with a set of loops or a rough demo track. However, that rough outline could be a source of new ideas once handed over to everyone else, it can easily turn into something completely different. You just have to avoid being precious about your own half-baked ideas.
Ken: I don’t mind admitting that I can wander off on sonic flights of fancy, sometimes. I was into musique concrete, and avant garde composers before I owned a computer. Martin and Richard know what works on the dance floor and what doesn’t, which has helped to keep me grounded.
So you’ve made six albums together over the past five years as well as a bunch of singles and EPs. That’s a pretty healthy work rate. In terms of the albums, have you been working in a similar way for each one?
Martin: We don’t have a fixed working method; we’re in the studio five or six days a week so it’s really easy for us to work on things together. We also do lots of stuff that never gets released or deleted as it’s just part of the process of being an artist.
Ken: I think we’re all the sort of people, who, if we did discover a formula, would rip it up and try something completely different. Running around in the same old tracks for ever and ever must be stultifyingly boring. Like a stuck record.
With an album like Music for Real Airports, there’s obviously a bit of a theme going on. Are all your albums approached with a collection of surrounding ideas?
Martin: Everything starts from one idea and expands from there. Some have stronger themes and bonds than others but there’s a point where great music just wins out over some elaborate back story. We’ve read a lot of press releases and sometimes the back stories are better than the music, but a lot of [music] writing these days just copies the text from a press release. It’s lazy but you can see why it happens. It was one of the reasons we kept the PR on Tranklements to a minimum, just to see what would happen.
For the Airports album specifically, was this strictly homage to Eno’s album or more of an updated look at airports, incorporating the coming of less-than-glamorous air travel and cut-price airlines?
Martin: It was a contemporary and artistic reply with a load of political statements about the way we are treated in that environment. We pay for the pleasure of being just another blob of meat in the eyes of the PLC’s that run the airports and airlines.
Richard: The title and subject matter was about as far as the comparisons go, the end result and our intentions are very different. The reality of modern air travel is very different to the 70’s ideals in Eno’s work.
Ken: Brian’s album didn’t investigate the clusterfuck of security that paying customers now have to endure. I choose not to fly now, since some fascist in a brown shirt yelled at me to “take my shoes off.” What I wanted to say, was “Do I look like a shoe-bombing terrorist, you twat?” But we would have been escorted to the naughty boys room and probably missed the gig. That incident incensed me so much, I burnt my passport. Music for REAL airports.
Can we talk about your new album Tranklements? Tell us about the recording process and what informed the writing of it?
Richard: The idea behind Tranklements was to actually try and remove the big ideas or concepts, which is a bit of a contradiction. We wanted each track to be more individual, personal and exist in its own right. Each one should work as part of the album or on its own.
You don’t seem to favor remix work very much. What are the criteria for TBD to take on a remix?
Martin: We only take on things we want to do and we also wanted to keep a lot of the ideas we have for our own projects. A lot of artists take on or do remixes to climb some imaginary career ladder; that’s not something that interests me a great deal.
Richard: We can get carried away with a remix and spend far too long on it, but it can be interesting to dissect someone else’s work for a change.
Ken: As mentioned above, TBD has done plenty of remixes over the years. Most of them were fun. But when you have their record company execs breathing down your neck with slipped deadlines and “suggestions,” the enjoyment factor evaporates somewhat. It’s more entertaining writing our own material at the moment. Not saying that I won’t ever work on another remix. but they aren’t top of the list at present. Been there, done that.
You’ve all been around long enough to see plenty of changes in the world of techno. How do you feel about techno and where it’s at right now? What significant changes, if any, have you seen in recent years?
Martin: I think it’s in a pretty good place; there’s still a healthy underground that takes care of its own and there are plenty of artists doing some great work. I do wonder who’s buying the shite in Beatport’s Top Techno 100 charts though? It sounds like it’s been the same 20 loops for the last five years and I’ve never been in a club where they play it.
Richard: The younger generation of producers, promoters and clubbers coming through seem to be more open to new ideas and influences. They’re just not caught up in the in the elitism that was so prevalent in electronic music a few years ago. Musical styles are getting mixed up far more now, which suits us perfectly.
Ken: I’m very happy that techno is a still a valid musical genre all these years down the road. Splintered into many fragments, which all have a life in their own right and still it’s survived. People were telling me that it was a fad, and that it would soon pass, back in 1993. I’m glad to be able to say they were talking out of their bottoms.
Judging by recent on-line threads, you’re not influenced by Kowton, amongst others. What are TBD listening to at home?
Martin: Ha-ha that was me trolling up a lazy comment on RA. We’d been sat in the pub with the laptops having a laugh at the comments. We love a lot of electronic artists but I’m not sure that we look to them to be or as an influence. I’m more influenced by art and politics than other artists in music. That said I do love a lot of work by Beneath, Happa, SDC, et al. There’s a lot of great stuff out there and it’s great that the younger generation have taken to it and are kicking some arse, more power to them. If you check our Darkwave mixes, these are the artists we’re into and we tend to play a lot of new artists in our DJ mixes.
What can you tell us about the mix you’ve put together for us?
Martin: It’s some of our favorite new releases and the stuff we’ve been playing in the studio and when we get booked to do DJ sets. There’s a lot of great music out there and we like selecting the stuff that’s doing it for us.
What can we expect from TBD over the next year?
Richard: We’ve got a couple more singles ready to go and are looking at a few other projects too, so we’ll just have to see what lands first.