Some weeks ago I received an ever-so-slightly strange cd from Anne-Marie at the Gonzo offices. It was (and still is) called Redux and turned out to be from a band called Genre Peak.
Its brand of electronic noise pressed all the right buttons for me, having the stylistic fingerprints of Martin Hannet at his best, but without being a retro act. I did a bit of digging and found out that the Genre Peak mainman is a bloke called Martin Birke. I asked Rob Ayling about him, and he replied:
"Martin, as well as being a dear friend is also a very talented musician. His soulful approach to his music is a rare combination of talent and feel. Augmented by talented musicians such as Mick Karn. Martin's music is as welcome as a cool breeze on a summers day".
I replied, saying ascerbically that he was the multi media mogul, whereas I was the one supposed to be indulging in writing deathless prose, but he ignored me. So I emailed Martin Birke, and asked whether he fancied doing an interview for the Gonzo Daily Blog...
Jon: I was just listening to your album. It’s bloody good you know.
Martin: Oh thank you so much.
Jon: It kept reminding me of some of the stuff that inspired me back in the day. I could hear little bits of Joy Division and things like that in there.
Martin: Oh yeah. I was very much into Joy Division, Japan, Ultravox, all the early 80s bands, Kraftwerk, you know. They were all really important to me when I was a lot younger.
Jon: What I like about it though is that you have taken those ideas and moved then them on into the 21st Century. It’s not retro in any way.
Martin: Good, good. I try not to be. With every album I do I try to buy the latest gear and software because I’m always afraid with electronic music of being that, of being dated.
Jon: I know what you mean, because a lot of music from the 60s and 70s doesn’t sound as dated as some of the music of the early 80s. Some of those early 80s synth sounds really are of their time.
Martin: Yeah especially the early 80s drum machines, they have such a flat horrible sound. I remember listening to Howard Jones, and thinking 'Oh my God, his music sounds so dated because he used the same drum machine sounds'. I think it was like an 808 or something. It just kinda horrified me. It’s really strange on what ages music well and what doesn’t.
Jon: I think it’s actually the technology that doesn’t age well rather than the music.
Martin: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. I remember clap tracks were very popular in the 80s.
Jon: And those syn drums that went "dooooooooooooo dooooooooooo" (makes silly syn-drum noise)
Martin: Oh yeah exactly. I used to have a Simmons drum kit that had sounds like that.
Jon: That’s a name I haven’t heard in years, ‘cos I used to play one of those back in the day.
Martin: Yeah me too. I got horrible tendonitis from it. I couldn’t play drums for a full year after playing on a Simmons drum kit. They were pretty archaic though. They are not like today’s electronic drums that have soft mesh pads to them, you know.
Jon: What I was always wondering was, when you are writing songs, how do you choose which ones are for Genre Peak and which ones are for Hardboiled Wonderland?
Martin: Well, erm, usually everything I write starts with the idea of being for Genre Peak. If I happen to throw the demos over to Percy, and he likes it, and starts writing lyrics to it then of course it’ll become a Hardboiled Wonderland song. If he doesn’t really like it, then I’ll pass it around to other vocalists I know and if it works out then it’ll probably become a Genre Peak song.
Jon: I suppose that Genre Peak - because it’s you plus guests - is a much more diverse working environment?
Martin: Yeah, it’s really fun because it’s a lot of studio work and I prefer studio work to live performance always, and with Genre Peak, especially on Preternatural, our 2008 record, I was able to connect with people like Roger O’Donnell from The Cure, and of course I got Mick Karn to work with me, and a lot of bands overseas I was in contact with. Everyone was very willing to work with me and it was a really joyful experience, because the music kept coming and the more I would send it out the more I would get feedback from different artists. Eventually Roger O’Donnell couldn’t be part of the process because of his schedule, but – you know – I got Canadian singer Tara C Taylor who is a little well known in Vancouver to fly down and do vocals for me.
And with Mick - he was living in Cyprus so we had to send tracks back and forth. At one point we were discussing if Mick could come over to the United States and join the band full-time because back in 2007 we were a live touring band, but what happened was that after several discussions with him and his manager, we realised that we just don’t have the money to tour, you know, we didn’t have proper label support and we didn’t have the money to tour. And bringing Mick half way round the world to Cailfornia in itself would have cost a lot of money, so we ended up just exchanging tracks via the post and email and stuff and it worked out rather well that way.
Jon: Well this is really something that couldn’t have happened before now. When I started, my musical grounding was still get a guitar, learn three chords, and form a band with some bloke that you knew at school. The idea of being able to record with people that you’ve never met all over the world is fantastic.
Martin: Yeah it is. It is really wonderful. I was able to work with a Spanish band called Stereoskop, a French band called Kissing Fly, and we basically just sent our tracks, you know, on DVDs through the post and would send them back and forth and it worked out really great. And without the huge costs of having to fly people from around the world to meet up at a recording studio, which would have had to be done in the 70s and 80s, and 90s to a degree too.
Jon: It’s fantastic. It’s really like science fictiony to an old hippy like me.
Martin: [laughs] Yeah, I really enjoy the studio work. It’s really rewarding and with Genre Peak now, with all the different vocalists I have on the songs, and all the different musicians, I realise that it’s kinda impossible to play live now, because I could never get all these people to come to California and work with me, so I’m doing everything I can to promote the recordings in conjunction with Gonzo and Billy at Glass Onyon, and you know, with the new album Redux we are really making every effort we can with the resources we have available.
But I really love Genre Peak. It’s a really rewarding project . I was able to get a video made to Sacramento Film and Music Festival, which didn’t cost me anything. I’ve done a few independent films so I’ve got some resources there, but – yeah - it’s really a shame that we couldn’t do this live in some way.
We continue tomorrow with more insights into the modus operandi of this terribly 21st Century artists. In the meantime check out his page at the Gonzo website, where you can read his biography, and buy the new album...
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