Updated: Mar 5
The machine God will see you now.. What is it to be human and what is it to compete with ever prevalent machinery and biological obsolescence? What use is the flesh against these aural shockwaves and legions of electric belt fed riffs delivering shock and awe munitions of ever increasing guitar magnitude? Join the assembly line and find out.
Q. You have mentioned to me before that ‘Machine ready’ is not just about A.I, algorithms, and machines manipulating our future lives more than they already do but that being human is about the ability to lose control and that a lot of recent events have set the foundations of the future your album seeks to explore. Do you see this as an ironic and accidental planned obsolescence of the human race, and can you elaborate more on the core concept of Machine ready as a whole in regards to this theme? A. Machine Ready is about the omnipresence of AI and algorithms, and what it means to be human in the emerging machine age. We thought creating artificial intelligence, we would be creating life, we would become gods. But instead, we are becoming Neanderthals – where it dawns on us that were are not the smartest entity on the planet. We will not be able to compete with super intelligence. We shouldn’t try, its a losing game. Instead we should focus on what makes us truly human, It's not our logic. The last few years has defo shown us that. What makes us really human is our soul – the ability to lose control, which machines will never do. The ability to create and imagine. Machines will never be created to feel loss, nor grieve nor experience those micro-bonds that even we don’t have words for – the touch of a hand, the smell of a new-born. A machine will never feel the joy of sweat, breathlessness, and ten thousand people in a field dancing to the same beat. It's these that makes us human, from when we first walked on the planet - not our ability to count. These are the signatures of our soul. To be machine ready we need to have soul. Machine Ready is a soul album.
Q. In the release notes you say that you always tried to recreate what you imagined as a child when you read a Christian propaganda book about the dangers of Punk music. Do you feel like you’ve achieved that with this album and do you feel like the Mad Max style world your album plays out points out the absurdity of the world and how that kind of propaganda across many different aspect is actually pushing our world to the brink of destruction? A. The propaganda from that Christian book worked in ways they didn’t expect. Reading and re-reading it I got a sense that these dangerous punks and rock stars were vulnerable creatures, trapped in their own hell-scapes, the anxiety of falling out of Heaven, never being able to fit in. Fallen angels hiding in plain sight. I fell in love with the fragility of these characters and wanted to reflect the fragility in my album too.
They never wanted to be bad, not all were lost, just made a few wrong turns. Years later you see sex drugs ‘n roll killed too many of them. So much propaganda today is trying to portray groups like Extinction Rebellion, Trans Activism, Black Lives Matters or Left wing thinking as some form of evil. We aren’t. In a way, we believe in a heaven too. We just want all to be part of that heaven, even if it feels Heaven kicked us out as we wouldn’t wear a tie! (Therapy?- ‘Going Nowhere’) I’m gonna leave this question with a quote from Mathew 9:12 – It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. If we don’t all work together, and give help where it's needed then it's game over for mankind, as a species and as individuals too.
Q. This album has a lot of variety in it and the format of each track has very clearly had a lot of thought put in to each one. We see post rock with ‘Imitating art’ horror punk predominantly, Hip-Hop, and even a synth wave style intro/outro with ‘Disassemble me.’ With so many different instruments and styles, was this album a project to prove just how much you could push yourself musically or did it all just come naturally without much thought to variety? A. That’s a real good question and one I’m still trying to explore. I’m slightly autistic and dyspraxic. I used to have seizures as a kid. Its taken me until my 40’s to realise I experience the world differently to everyone I know. I dream in sound. The music in my head never stops.
As I get older I’m more confident to talk about all the music that inspires me, because no-one likes the guy that says..
“Hey, I like all kinds of music”.
I’m old enough to not give a crap. So once the song writing floodgates open, I just see wherever it takes me. It's fully natural and like visiting the 4th Dimension that no-one else can see.
Image: William Mawdsley Photography
Q. A lot of the guitar riffs in this album would give Doof warrior some real pangs of jealousy. Which track was your favourite guitar wise and would you say the album was written more around the sound or more around the lyrics? A. Ah waay cool. That’s a super compliment, thank you. The lyrics were written last for each track. I’d just create these soundscapes and listen to them repeatedly until the lyrics come to me. Normally I’d improvise the lyrics, but this time I had to force myself to get into deeper memories and revisit empathetically the events I’m singing about. I do love some of the solos as they capture experiences I’m reliving, such as one ‘As They Let You Down’ as it sounds like I’m hugging my partner. It’s a solo with love in mind. My proudest moment though is probably the intro to Collapsing New Stars. Nothing too complex, it just syncs together perfectly – lead, rhythm, and noise. Same with 'It Came To This' – my bass, rhythm and, lead all blend together satisfyingly.
Q. What sort of people do you feel would benefit the most from the messages of these songs?
A. Not that I want to exclude any demographic, but I really hope young men listen to this – masculinity can be so tragically defined by ‘being tough’ or ‘manning up’. There are gonna be times that are so incredibly hard that it feels like it will destroy you.
You don’t need to compete, nor ever need to be shamed about being vulnerable. All the lyrics are true stories and about real people. Some heavily disguised for reasons of anonymity. These are events people went through too, just like young folk are going through today.
Q. Are there any music videos and merchandise for this release in the works?
A. Oh yes!! T-shirts and CDs to support the album and a video too. As long as lockdown lets us record the video. So far, all I can say about the video is that its going to include a LOT of fire and LOT of petrol.
It's being done by one of the best metal video makers. If you have seen any Napalm Records videos, you will have probably seen his work.
As an artist I guess I'm supposed to do merch as it’s the done thing. But I want to create merch that's worthy of people’s support. It means everything to me when people buy it and I want to give people something to love, art that means something.
Image: Nigel Messenger
Q. What do you see the world being like in five years and how do you think SYD.31 and musicians in general will adapt and change accordingly?
A. Reality is going to hit hard for many people at the top. Brexit is an utter failure for the arts and I can't see any way forward than for the government to make big changes for us.
In addition, the streaming industry is starting to be held to account and its inequitable distribution of income. Both of these are going to change, thanks to pressure from artists and movements like The Musicians Union. I’m part of the MU and glad to see them make progress. I think in five year’s time there will be even more progress on mental health and music. Most large employers have Mental Health First Aiders in the workplace and I would like to see MHFA being part of health and safety at gigs and creative spaces. Its something I’ve taken the first steps to try and arrange.
As part of positive mental health, I think in the next five years we will also see a Post-Marilyn Manson world where misanthropy and intention to cause harm isn’t seen as cool anymore. Q. Is there a favourite funny or important moment that you like to tell people in regards to SYD.31?
A. Haha, yeah. Its when I played Infest. A load of pals went to town and bought loads, and I mean LOADS of granny pants. I was trying so hard to keep a serious punk face when a wall of pants just kept flying at me. I did what any professional musician would do – I put a pair on and twerked!
Q. What difficulties with lockdown have you had in putting this album together?
“I don’t see problems, I see opportunities” and other bullshit catchphrases; But I’ve had to take a strategic view of this and its worked out well for me. What would Sun Tzu do? One of the biggest obstacles I’ve overcome is people saying over the years that you can't do things by yourself. I realised that’s more about their own limits and insecurities. You certainly can do what you need to do, even if it means doing things differently. The biggest difficulty was doing everything by myself – no signature yobbie crowd vocals as we couldn’t socialise or meet up. But I made that work, I could do vocals that are very ‘me’ instead.
If you listen to the album closely there are layers of different vocals low in the mix, some spoken, some shouted. It means every time I listen to it myself I hear something different. Sadly though, it’s the first recording I’ve done since the 90’s without sharing a microphone. A strangely lonely experience and you have to be very content with your own company to do that.
Q. Which track/s are you most proud of with this album and which has the most personal meaning to you?
Is it a cop-out to say I’m proud of them all? I don’t want to release tracks that I can write, I release tracks I want to write. I don’t see myself as limited by my ability to craft a song. This really helps when I’m telling a personal story.
I enjoyed ‘Demon Night’ as it was about a haunted house we lived when I was a kid. I shivered all the way through recording the vocals on that. ‘Collapsing New Stars’ is probably my most personal though. A true story about being in my first band and thinking we were going to change the world. Remembering that optimism, bravery and ultimate failure was cathartic and gave me a sense of closure on that time of my life.
Q. What artists are you listening to most right now?
I’m currently writing my follow-up album, so far entitled ‘Prayer Songs’. As part of that I’ve been re-visiting all the Grebo bands I heard when I first came back to the UK, especially Pop Will eat Itself, Gaye Bikers On Acid, early KLF, and Neds Atomic Dustbin. Incredible crossover artists with a sense of groove and fun. If you want a taste of what the next Syd album will sound like, check out PWEI’s ‘Dos Dedos Mos Amigo’. I really miss the sense of groove that’s absent in a lot of contemporary alt-artists.
Q. What venue has been your favourite to play at?
Jeez, that a tough question. I’ve had so many good gigs, it's hard to say. Sometimes the smaller gigs have more soul, just a handful of genuinely like-minded people. Other times bigger venues and stages make you feel like a total rock star. Tomorrow’s Ghost festival was like that. We sold out of merch as everyone came over and just wanted to talk and to support us. It was phenomenal. I also loved playing Coalville Bikers bar, lots of punk, ska, and metal bands. A genuine rock ‘n roll venue. More of this please.
Dr.Magic when I first met him at Resistanz 2016
Q. What life lessons has being in music taught you over the last year? This has been my most creative year and probably the biggest for my self-awareness. None of us have to return to doing things the old way – we can rebuild and better. But we have to accept that extinction exists and WILL happen unless we wake up. We can't just plod along, we have to keep progressing, building, creating – making things that inspire others; And it starts with ourselves.
Q. What (provisional) plans do you have for 2021 if things improve? I just want to at least rehearse the Machine Ready tracks together with my Kara Wolf and Harry Shavo. The album is out on Easter Friday. Ha, more religious themes around resurrection and re-awakening. I just plan on being part of the musical resurrection, get out gigging again and putting on a show for people that makes it worth coming back out for.
Harry Shavo, Dr.Magic, and Kara Wolf
Q. Anything you’d like to say to your fans?
Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge thanks for supporting us during the lockdown and still buying merch too. I can't put into words what it means when people dig the lyrics and art, even though I’m a millions miles away. A big thank you.
Rolling thunder, an eerie desolate and seemingly digitalised wind sweeps across the landscape of the album's opening track. Despair and foresight given life through reverbing, pulsating soundwaves. With a devastating clap of lighting that shatters the artful construct, the guitars herald the telling of the end times; With unchained guitar fury, SYD.31 return.
'Broken Blank' is wasteland aggression fury going toe to toe with drum and bass lunacy. Back when mosh pits in punk and metal were crucibles of friendship and anarchistic brotherhood against a common foe. This track breathes remembrance in to that golden era of better times in direct contrast to the album's concept of an increasingly screwed up and divided world where such things are becoming obsolete.
'It came to this' feels very much like a continuation of the previous track and brings forth another of the shout your heart our chorus' that SYD.31 is known for. Controlled chaos and over bearing remembrances of pain reforged and crafted with passion in to a dance floor boot wrecker. These guitar riffs are pure Doof Warrior frenzy. How loud is too loud, how fast is too fast?..
Image: Mad Max Fury Road - Doof Warrior
A real change of pace and a blind-siding of emotion comes from 'Imminent failure'. There is the familiarity of classic Goth Depeche mode and The cure but in a more early 2000's dramatic style the likes of which AFI and Slipknot used to implement to tug on heartstrings everywhere. The pace is soft and slow like a warm depression blanket lulling you to sleep only to be suddenly torn off and thrown to the fire with nitro injected aggression and guitar dismay.
If this isn't a perfect metaphor for mental health bad days, I'm not sure what is.
'As they let you down' and 'Demon night' continue the same onslaught; Pouring forth pure fuel from flaming guitars, speedy drums, and throat tearing vocals. If you're a fan of the heavier fist pumping, leg kick, chaotic concert madness then these tracks will get you swinging.
Retro kicks are abound in 'Collapsing New Stars' with a track somewhere between 'Video killed the radio star' mashed with Duran Duran, Frankie goes to Hollywood, and The Human League all pretending not to stare at the Sex Pistols pissing in the corner. Slide guitars and slap bass goodness. It's a real feel good vibe and a track that would rock a summer drive in a convertible.
With that euphoric rush of endorphins we are now suddenly brought down to beautiful, sorrowful depths in the post rock ballad of 'Imitating Art'. The vocals are incredibly soft and heartfelt, it no longer feels like a SYD.31 song. It seems to return once again to that AFI like emo style. Its depth may be sorrowful but it is just as vindicating and uplifting as the previous songs - just in contrary style. It is self reflective and serene; I love it!
'Disassemble me' teases a synthwave chillout vibe that is to die for and continues to re-emerge throughout. However the aggression kicks back in but at half the intensity of previous tracks, there's some real horror punk influence here and the overall vibe is a dark, spiralling descent in to a screwed up wonderland.
Where the guitars really shine on this album is with 'Machine ready' this track brings to the imagination an orchestral army of robots riffing in concert. Possibly doing the 'robototron' dance of Evil Scarecrow. See HERE.
The lyrical content is clear in its quite literal rage against the machine and that standing up against this horrific change is in itself seen as a rebellious act. Imagine a bunch of Mad Max warboys trying their best to smash up some Terminators in full scale urban warfare and you 'might' be close to the scale and scope of the intelligent musical storytelling on offer.
Finally we have 'We Turned The Lights Out' which is a very different track to anything you would expect. Influenced by Dub reggae and Zimbabwe culture. It feels like an 80's time warp that throws slightly different ska at you from different angles. Quite an odd choice but SYD.31 is quite experimental and odd Indeed!
01 - Intro (A Night Visitor) Setting a mood - capturing the feeling that ‘something’ was coming. Borrowing a lot from 1950s and 1960s sci-fi horror shows, with a modern feel rather than nostalgia. 02 - Broken Blank A true story based on a pal who came off their medication just so they could do recreational drugs at a party. It was horrid for them and frightening to see as they fell into a mental health crisis. The dramatic collapse of their health made an impact on me and I wanted to channel some of the turmoil I saw them going through. Musically, it was wonderful to do some hardcore punk guitars, merged with some classic Chuck Berry riffing. 03 - It Came To This Based on some pals, you know the types, they wont help you when you need them. In the end its never the words from our enemies that cause pain, but the silence from friends.
On the musical side I wanted to channel Troublegum era Therapy?, tracks like ‘The Knives’, one of the nastiest songs ever written. I struggled to get a perfect snare sound as the track was very busy and any distinct snare hogged the mix. The solution was to use samples of sticks and metal spoons hitting tin buckets. It works. It shouldn't, but it does.
04 - Imminent Failure
Based on when I realised what my ex-wife had done and that its over. I’ve always been interested in capturing the thoughts and feelings as something happens - that split microsecond when we realise something has ended. Most songs talk about fear of something happening, or their feelings after the events - reflective and thought provoking. But this is the penny dropping moment, that moment of utter vulnerability. The bassline for this just happened straight away, almost as if the song had already been written - pure Joy Division stuff. Listen out for the huge door slamming sound effect. Its inspired by Discharge lyrics ‘Can You Hear the Sound of an Enormous Door Slamming in the Depths of Hell’. That slam was the starting point of the whole song and it built up from that. 05 - As They Let You Down A love song of sorts. People can be so cruel. This is a true story about when people ganged up on a partner. High school never ends really. The track is written in the style of my first band (Freaks Union), an angry pop-punk band, mixing hardcore punk with Depeche Mode and Duran Duran. It was great to do this style of song writing all over again. 06 - Collapsing New Stars A true story about being in Freaks Union all those years ago. A tale of being young, ambitious and believing you can change the world. The music was written in the style of 70’s glam rock meets Transvision Vamp. Its probably my favourite intro to any song I’ve written. 07 - Demon Night When I was about 10 years old, we moved into a house which was just horrible. Some ‘thing’ would come into my room every night and stand by my bed. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, it was terrifying. Other people saw it too, including family, but we didn't talk about it until years later. I loved doing the vocals on this. You can hear the genuine fear in my voice as I remembered how it felt to be a scared kid again hiding under my blankets. I shivered all the way through the vocal recording. I still cant sleep with the lights out. The ‘spooky’ lead guitar was inspired by The Cramps and surf/punk, using a little bit of extra reverb and using the wonderful Gretsch Bigbsy tremolo arm. 08 - Imitating Art
My and my partner got stranded at a party one freezing winter. We decided to walk home, it was only a 20 min walk. Being young punks we had just ripped jeans and t-shirts. The cold hit us hard, seizing up our muscles and turning a short walk into a 2 hour ordeal. Yup, we nearly died. The guitar solo was taken in one take. I was going to delete it as I thought it was too emotional and not exciting enough. Oh boy, was I wrong. I loved it and captures the feeling of being lost and cold. 09 - Disassemble Me A partner became very ill which led to crippling depression. They couldn't see a way forward and wanted help in passing. It was a crisis moment we got though. I wrote the song in the style of Amy Whinehouse as modern blues and soul is a big influence on me, artists like as Michael Kiwanuka and Charles Bradly. Some added guitar chuggyness works wonders for capturing the essence of the song. 10 - Machine Ready Social media algorithms are incredibly harmful - creating pain, drama and distress to ensure we react in certain ways. Imagine that some point in the future, when machines, droids and artificial life has the same capability to manipulate us at every level, using our own souls against us. The song is simply made from layers and layers of guitars over tribal drums, detuned brass instruments and some cinematic braaams. 11 - We Turned the Lights Out
A theme I wrote in 2016 after the Brexit vote and Trump’s election win. A dark moment for me. I just wanted to turn the lights out on their world, burn it all down. Years later, when it came to recording the vocals, I doubted I could capture that vibe and was planning on ad-libbing some new lyrics instead. That morning I woke up to see the news that Trump tried to manufacture a coup, with the far right attacking the Capitol, trying to hunt left-wing politicians. Well, those original lyrics came right back to me and seemed perfect. I recorded them while watching the news unfold and I was furious. The music is inspired by growing up in Zimbabwe, surrounded by incredible dub artists like Yellowman. It is my tribute to heavy dub plate sounds. The lyric ‘them the rules, them the brakes’ is a reference to hip-hop pioneer Kurtis Blow.
12 - Outro (A Visitor Departs)
I used to wake up around dawn and my bedroom lamp was still on. I’d finally turn it off and get a bit more sleep, feeling much better knowing daytime was a better place for me. Whatever it was in my room would be gone.
SYD.31 has presented the apocalyptic future we really don't need, but sure as hell deserve. Although not my usual taste in music the interlaying complexity of story, instruments, concepts, inspiration, musical 'Easter eggs', emotion, and experience have amalgamated in to one impressive construct that any cyborg would be glad to have backing their slaughter.
In the same way 'Djent' is seen as intelligent metal, I would say SYD.31 have created intelligent Punk. (Well, more intelligent, Punk has always had some incredible minds in the scene and I certainly wouldn't want to diminish that.) let's call it AI-Punk maybe? I'm sure others could come up with a better subgenre name.
Machine ready is the formidable devastation of machine enhancement interjected with authentic Human soul, passion, and what it is to survive in the evolutionary war between creation and creator. It is pain and ecstasy, tragedy and beauty, fear and hope. The machines are already here.
'This is what you want? This is what you get'...
Machine ready is available for pre-order on March 5th and releases April 5th. Bandcamp page: HERE
Dance factor: 8/10
Overall score: 8.1 / 10
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