sometimes the city moves so fast it melts. Sometimes there’s too much room and not enough space. Sometimes you can only stand to go outside at night. Bark Psychosis exist in that crepuscular moment when the middle distance is all you can see, when the life of the city seeps into you and through you and leaves you empty. They formed in 1988 as callow teenagers and spent ten minutes recording a two-minute burst of noise named “Clawhammer”, which found a home on a flexidisc next to a Spacemen 3 song. But this first step could never foreshadow what they would go on to do. Over the next three years the group recorded and released a series of songs characterised by an oceanic scope, by uncompromising dynamic shifts, by a sense of mystery and progression; songs that were by turns pulverisingly brutal (“By Blow”) and agonisingly beautiful (“Blood Rush”). They did silly things with whale song and ‘brown tones’ that home stereos cannot reproduce. In 1992 they climaxed this run of songs with “Scum”, a sweeping, fading and overwhelming 21-minute journey through London’s twilight psyche, recorded live in the church crypt which had become the band’s musical home, something not quite ambient, not quite jazz, not quite rock and at times not quite any music anyone had ever heard before.

Their debut album, Hex, was recorded over nine months in 1993 and saw the band, still barely out of their teens, struggle to cope with their own momentum, creativity and perfectionism. By the time it was finally released in the spring of 1994, it had both given inadvertent birth to the neologism ‘post-rock’, and fractured the group dynamic beyond repair. Over the coming months they would splinter and separate and disperse into the ether. One more single was forthcoming, named “Blue” and taking Bark Psychosis in another direction again, and then there was one. The final remaining member put the group on ‘hold’, and headed in a different direction.

This summer sees the release of the first new Bark Psychosis material in a decade. In the 16 years since his ‘group’ first formed Graham Sutton has released one album (Hex) and one sanctioned compilation (Independency) under that name, plus a solo drum ‘n’ bass record as Boymerang in 1997. This paucity of material might suggest otherwise, but Graham Sutton likes to keep busy. In a corner of east London overshadowed by a giant gas tower he has built his own studio and carved out a niche as a producer and engineer for others, most recently working on the debut album by the shimmering, harmonious Delays. And, since 1999, he has been creating ///Codename: Dustsucker.

Tracks from Dustsucker have been doing the rounds on P2P networks for around two years now. This would be enough to drive Metallica mad, but Graham is more easygoing; after all, he leaked them himself. Signed to Parlophone’s esoteric subsidiary, Regal, for the Boymerang album, when he informed them of his intention to make a new record after finishing with drum ‘n’ bass they said they would be happy to release it, expecting a club-oriented affair, something with beats to chill out to. When they were firmly told that this was not the case delays and troubles ensued, and so one evening, nearly at the end of his considerable tether, Graham dropped a couple of tracks into his shared folder on Audiogalaxy for six hours as an experiment. “It was interesting to see the viral thing take place as the tracks spread out. In this day and age the outlets you’ve got to get your music heard are limited unless you’re doing something uber-mainstream. The only way my music’s ever got out there is via word of mouth, and the stuff I got into when I was 14 or 15 was via people giving me tapes of different things. Filesharing is just the same thing. Hopefully if people who hear the music like it then see that they can support a small, independent label and a small, independent artist and they’ll buy it.”

Graham acknowledges that the position he’s in gives him a degree of leeway to be laidback about the consumption of his own music though. He makes his living producing other people’s records (although he’s loathe to call it a day job), and this has a profound affect on his modus operandi. “If you take away the power from people who are telling you that you could make a living purely from your own music, if you stop relying on that as your source of income, then it gives you an enormous amount of freedom.” But his work as a producer and engineer is clearly separate from the creation of his own music. “A lot of the time I wouldn’t listen to bands I’ve worked with if I wasn’t producing them,” he says, but he doesn’t see it as a problem. “I don’t think it’s a pre-requisite of doing a good production job to be a fan. I guess it’s like being a gynaecologist, it isn’t necessarily going to give you the horn, in fact that’s an inappropriate response.”

Bands who’ve emerged in the wake of Bark Psychosis’ formative works have passed Graham by too, meaning he’s largely unaware of the work of Elbow, Radiohead and Sigur Ros. It’s not as though he took a decade’s holiday to idly follow the progression of his legacy, or even as if he was involved in any sphere those bands who seized on Bark Psychosis’ sound might have moved in, as Boymerang lasted for five years after he put the band on hold. He’s equally unconcerned with the machinations and innovations of modern hip-hop—what he has been listening to and enjoying is “the same as ever,” from Scott Walker to The Fall, with recent favourites including Whitehouse’s Birdseed album and American composer and instrument-inventor Harry Partch, a big influence on the likes of Tom Waits and Sonic Youth. But music takes up so much time, whether it’s creating his own or facilitating other people’s, that film is more often turned to for pleasure, with Graham revisiting Bergman’s classics and Brighton Rock recently, as well as being impressed by Mulholland Drive and the shocking, inverse-narrative of Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible.

“I like to listen to records like I’d watch a film, I love the whole idea of being able to put a CD on and listen to it with undivided attention from beginning to end.” This sense, not quite of narrative, but of cohesion, of flow and development, informs his approach to music. “With this record I tried to create all sorts of different sides to things going on, peaks and troughs, different moods.

“I agonise over years and years about a piece of music, fiddle and fiddle with it. It’s like getting a shape in my head, it’s not about a tune or about expressing a feeling; I’m not interested in ‘expressing myself’. I’m trying to build something that works and functions by itself and that I can wander around in, that’s solid and changes my mood and draws me through things, changes me, radically or violently or imperceptibly. I want to end up at a different point, a completely different point than you were at a few minutes ago, but not quite sure how you got there, or even noticed the change happening.” There’s a definite line for Graham between himself and his music, a distinction between artist and art; he sees his music as being about the production of an artefact or piece, and then the passing over of that for other people to experience.

“By the very nature of working on something for such a length of time and the effort that’s gone into it you can’t divorce yourself from it, but it does have a life of its own, outside of me. It is funny that I really enjoy making music, that’s the joy for me, the journey of making stuff. As soon as something’s released I can’t listen to it anymore. With Dustsucker I feel like I’ve got more mileage out of it because I’ve lived with it for five years. Seeing my own records in shops is really odd and I don’t enjoy it. It becomes just a product on a shelf, whereas before, while I was making it, it was alive, and now it’s just part of this whole morass of… sound… out there. I’m much happier putting two records out over ten years, two records that I’m really happy with, than a whole bunch that are just alright. Some people do that really well but I just couldn’t work like that; the way The Fall keep clocking them out and it seems as if the workrate is all that matters, and it works for them brilliantly. But at the same time a good friend works as head of production at a radio station and you see the 3000 CDs he gets every two days… It’s like… this whole sea of shit that you’re swimming through, if people just stopped for one second and thought a bit more about what they were doing, whether it’s something worth releasing. Everyone and their uncle can make a record, make a record in an evening, but if you’re just watching it ticking along, seeing the boxes crossed and the bars moving then it has no life of its own.”

That the music has its own existence is key to understanding Bark Psychosis. Life bleeds into it and it in turn bleeds back into life. Five minutes into “Miss Abuse” there is a noise like rupturing metal that rips through the left channel that might be “a guitar falling over.” Graham continues, “I just thought it was total genius as a sound, it’s a hook, it’s kind of catchy! It’s pop, a memorable hook that reels you in. I think of the music as being composed of hooks, all these other little soundworlds going on within each track. A lot of it’s about opening up to a certain amount of chance or random elements, allowing the music to go beyond its boundaries so it’s not just contained on this little disc. It does bloom out, seep out into your life, like your life seeps into it.

“My music has to feel of my environment while I’m making it and by the nature of that the idea of ‘the city’ will be reflected in the music, because I am a very urban person; that’s one way the music is interconnected with me, but at the end of the day that’s only for me, only my reaction to it. Once you release something and hand it over to someone else they can do what they like with it, have their own reactions.”

The most important moment is when “you’re not sure where the boundaries of the music and what’s happening around you end—chance, other stuff going on, that’s the ideal; that you’re not sure if something’s from the speakers or actually happening outside.” Mark Hollis talked about a desire to create music that was composed at once of “absolute calm and absolute intensity”, and Graham sees little point in favouring the ‘calm’ side of the equation. “Noise is important. I could never understand people I knew who liked Talk Talk and saw it as something ‘nice to chill out to’ when I loved the overwhelming intensity and the dynamics.”

Bark Psychosis quietly push the boundaries of our understanding of reality, of possibility. Detail is as important as form, destination less important than the actual journey. Authenticity and reality don’t matter because it is music we’re dealing with, not life itself. All that matters is how you use one within the other. One doesn’t listen to Bark Psychosis in order to have listened to them; one listens for the moment of engagement, the precise instant when sound waves meet eardrums. As such it doesn’t matter where sounds originate from or what rack you might find the CD in; genre isn’t a concern or even a factor. “I found it hilarious when rave took off and people became really evangelical and catholic about what they like, what was appropriate and what was OK to like. Certainly with journalists it became a case of ‘this is the future now’ and fuck everything else. They were missing the point because it was just another thing that was happening, a step forward, just another movement.” ///Codename: Dustsucker has no genre and has no time. Graham doesn’t see it as his job to advance or progress things; he is merely interested in making music without repeating himself. As such acoustic guitars sit next to stuttering, post-dance 303 lines, trumpets intertwine with melodica and all things are consumed by cavernous space and exultant, white-sheets of sound. Puritanism from either direction is met with incredulity. “I’ve always been into different areas of music. I found a lot of snobbery from the electronic side of things.” It’s part of the reason he moved away from drum ‘n’ bass and sealed himself away almost completely from what was current in order to make Dustsucker. “People seem to have opened up again. I’ve always thought that the way to make something ‘original’ is to smash things up or put things together in a way you haven’t seen before… I find it amusing when people refer to my music as ‘urban’, now there’s this whole genre of ‘urban’ and nobody knows quite what it is. If Bark Psychosis is ‘urban’ it shows there’s another side of life going on.”

Graham isn’t sure what the future holds, except change. “The next record, even if it’s another ten years on, will be very different again; each time it’s a matter of what the solutions are to the set of problems at hand, whatever sound seems appropriate at any given point in time. When you start off doing these things, making a record, you never have any idea of how they’re going to turn out, it’s not like you say to yourself, it’ll be ‘acoustic based, yadda yadda’, you start with nothing and you have to add something.” There are “very loose” plans to play live, “possibly involving two drummers. I’ve always had a thing about multiple drummers, whether it’s The Fall or The Glitter Band. I’d approach doing a live thing very differently than doing a record. When I go out and go to a gig or whatever I want to get fucked, have a good time; you’re making very different music for that.” Any live band would be formed from “whoever’s around, whoever I can press gang into it,” Dustsucker having been put together with a loose cartel of musicians including ex-Talk Talk drummer Lee Harris. The fingers that stretch from Talk Talk through O.rang, Bark Psychosis, Beth Gibbons and others aren’t indicative of a conscious community, just a group of friends who occasionally work together.

For now, Graham has a busy production schedule to attend to, working on second albums by British Sea Power and Delays, as well as the release of ///Codename:Dustsucker to contemplate. “When I put the band on hold it was just me. Boymerang was different music; the name is just whatever felt appropriate for the music I was making at the time.

“I like to keep busy. I work harder than anybody I know. I’ve always done the artwork myself, because how the records are presented is very important, it’s one of the only ways you can give people extra value. I love just having a bunch of files too though, strip everything away from it, lose the peripheral stuff, because the marketing can’t get at you then, it’s just music.”

So did you ever hear the one about that man who made a record? It’s a long story, and I’m not sure anybody knows quite how it ends, or even what happened in the middle. “This album has taken fucking forever, because of legal nonsense and all sorts of other things,” says Graham, and there’s a tangible sense of relief that finally these things which seem like songs will be able to be heard, albeit tinged with regret that the process of creation, for now, is over. It’s hard to believe that, although he has been involved in making music for over 15 years, Graham Sutton is still only 32. It’s hard to believe this music comes from, on the most part, just one man. Or that it exists at all. It’s hard to believe it’s taken so long to make, except when you listen to it and the attention to detail, the scope and intimacy and twists and turns reveal an elephantine gestation of both concept and form. Not everything in the city moves too fast. Not everything in the city moves at all. Sometimes things simply seep slowly, and deeply, and take time. Sometimes these things are the best things.

By: Nick Southall
Published on: 2004-07-26
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