“kipper kid” legend, brian routh, talks about his music

As Aaron @ Eaten by Ducks states, “The world is divided into two halves, those who know who the Kipper Kids are and those who don’t.” For the latter, the notorious performance duo –  comprised of British artists’ Brian Routh and Martin von Haselberg – created a sensation in the 1970s with their bizarre slapstick rituals of self-abuse, what esteemed art critic, C. Carr, aptly described as “a legendary punch and punch show, gross, hilarious, dangerous, and bawdy.” Inspired by everything from LSD to Viennese Actionism, vaudeville, Beckett and punk, the Kipper Kids used scatological humor, aggressive theatrics, and deliberately low-tech productions in work that earned them an international reputation as enfant terribles. The recent exhibition of portraits by photographer Marcia Resnick , Bad Boys – Punks, Poets and Provocateurs: 1970s-1980s (Deborah Bell, Jan. 14-Feb. 26, 2011), positioned them among a wide range of peers including Divine, Johnny Thunders, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Quentin Crisp. Routh (once married to Karen Finley) and von Haselberg (still married to Bette Midler) both continued to exert their artistic influence long after their official split in 1982. Routh, in particular, went on to work with a host of underground luminaries – Karen Finley, Henry Rollins, Public Image, Genesis P. Orridge, Sex Pistols, Joanna Went, Eric Bogosian, Anne Bean, Bow Gamelan, Lol Coxhill, Evan Parker, Derek Bailey – in provocative performances, films, and concerts that merged madman antics with an activist sensibility.

Fascinating, quirky, and toothsome, Routh’s “soundworks” are especially engaging. They combine found and computer-generated sounds with keyboards, guitars, and electronic drums, and often create a synesthetic experience where one smells and sees as well as hears.  With musical influences as diverse as Davy Graham, Bert Jansch, Miles Davis, Bill Laswell, Incredible String Band, Mickey Katz, Spike Jones, Material, and Hector Zazou, Routh’s digital, ambient style also speaks poignantly to the issues of the day, including  the youth-driven revolutions currently transforming the Middle East. Below is an interview I did with the intriguing Routh, exploring his latest tracks, which can be accessed at the links listed below! Enjoy!

Jane: On your Reverbnation page, you write: “music is my life…..as far as being creative as an artists goes, I find that creating music is the most satisfying process for me right now. I love creating anything…..and performance, painting and video work are my next great artistic loves.” How and why do you think music has come to occupy such a central place in your creativity at this point in your life?

Brian: Music has always been very important to me. I started playing music when I was a kid. My father had a harmonium and a piano which he played by ear and I used to play them often also by ear. When I was about 13-14 I was given an electric organ and a tape recorder and I used both often. I had an old radiogram also which I recorded lots of static and short wave signals with and used my voice a lot. By the time I was 15 I got a drum kit and learned to play the drums. I started a rock band and we played in schools and youth clubs. By 18 I learned the blues harmonica and was playing and singing with a blues band and also learned the guitar and was playing folk in clubs. I was always using comedy in my music and pulling faces and performing stunts in the streets and trains when I was a teenager. ……I met Martin when I was 21 at a very cutting edge theatre school and we became the Kipper Kids.

Jane: If you could have any and all resources at your disposal, what would be the where/who/what etc. of your fantasy performance at the moment?

Brian: I have always wanted to write and direct a multimedia performance using digital media, whacked out dance and music……I have done this on a small scale with children and it was a lot of fun….but I’d love to do this with adults and with my partner Patricia Wells who is also an artist who works with digital media.

Jane: I listened to the recent tracks posted on your reverbnation page, and decided to write a stream-of-consciousness response to each as I was listening…there seems to be an interesting tension between your ambient sensibilities and more strident political views…in some cases, like Isreali Terrorism, the two merging (not an easy feat). I’d love to get your feedback/thoughts on this, as well as on my responses (see below).

Brian: All my solo performance work was political and was in part a commentary on the social niceties and the superficiality of the interactions between people….the Kipper Kids took that to an extreme. My music has always had that sort of edge to it also….besides also being a cathartic experience and somewhat spiritual without being hippy dippy.

Jane: rabbit skin glue made me think of hogs snuffling in pens under a starry nite, their bristly hides caked with mud. blackwater, on the opposite end of the spectrum, makes me think of a big mock Nazi rally and Laurie Anderson. Its those metallic hisses that give it this fascist vibe. And the way the beat slams at you to the end. (btw, heard this before I listened to isreali terrorism). slippery noodles. Oh, the perfect title for a wonky marching song for some sauced band of ex-marines in a k-hole, but not really because its very playful and like, well, marching with yer pals through some noodley byways…where a growlin “hooooaaahwuh” monster is your pal. red is yellow. At first I misread the title as “red is yellow too” and thought yeah, that’s true. Ha! Love the physical sensation of compressed sound like a river running through a mountain pass as it narrows and expands. I must confess my head is stuck in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which I just finished. I was a really captivated by Stoker’s characterizations of the Carpathians, hence the mountain image, I suppose! isreali terrorism. WOW. This AWED me, Brian.  I’m going to post it to facebook right away. It was too much to take in on one listening. Very POWERFUL. The combination of bio/text and  “tribal” drum pattern creates a wonderfully trancey counterpoint…gotta listen again. I think the power for me comes from the passion of truth expressed here, which we all know could easily be mis-engaged by anti-Semites, but you take the risk, and respect your audience enough to handle it.  Makes me think of Petey Greene (check out post here on my blog), who talked about racism in the 1970s, taking on Black Americans as well. He had a similar unapologetic boldness. a real character. Anyway, I was seriously blown away by this (probably because I too believe passionately in Palestinean rights). slower but nice. Very sexy. There’s those hogs again, but somehow they’re out of the K-hole and now swimming underwater?  I like the cymbal-shimis and the peppering of ephemeral noise. Great texture. Is the yellow-colored big-eared molten sun-figure in background drawing you use for your page the creature making these snarfuloopala hoggy-dolphin sounds?

Brian: I really like your imagery — it’s great how art and music allows us to see in ways different from each other. I am in a process in my music as I am when I perform or paint and the outcome is the result of that process…as Joseph Beuys called the artist an impotent magician…we make magic and there is usually a cartharsis of energy.

Jane: As one of the Kipper Kids, how do you relate that former (?) persona to your current work? And what do you think has been the most important legacy of that identity?

Brian: Being a Kipper Kid is a continuation or a link in a chain of being creative….I was a Kipper Kid before I became a Kipper Kid and I continue to be so today…I am free to be so without the confines of having to present myself within the structure of a Kipper Kid performance today, and there is no pressure on me to be anything other than who I am.