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4 March 2008
Articles | Interviews

Interview: Ulterior

No twee indie poetry bollocks for this lot

Words Niall O’Keeffe

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Be very clear: Ulterior are not your mates. The notion that a band should be approachable, relatable and ‘just like you’ is toxic to these boys. Indeed, contempt for the audience seems to fuel their gigs’ murderous intensity. At the good ones, they’re so offended by the punters that they decide to dish out a lesson. On the off nights, they’re too offended to bother. Either way, if you sidle up to them afterwards to voice your approval, you’ve entirely missed the point.

Perhaps inevitably, everyone wants a piece of them. When they arrive for their Stool Pigeon interview, there’s a documentary filmmaker in tow, recording their every move. Later, some women pull up at the next table and gaze on approvingly as Ulterior hold court. Mute Records trailed Ulterior for months but, to the band’s disgust, failed to stump up any money, so an alternative home has been found at Disc Error Recordings. A limited edition 12-inch single, ‘Weapons’, came out before Christmas and, mysteriously, sold hundreds of copies in Japan, a country Ulterior have never visited. Meanwhile, director Shane Meadows (This is England) is talking about using their music in his next film. When I catch up with the boys, they’re about to mix their second single (“a triple A-side… very Ulterior”) and they’re soon to support The Horrors at the 2,000-capacity London Astoria.

What’s all the fuss about? That becomes instantly clear on contact with Ulterior’s music, an ultra-potent blend of pulsing electronics, screeching noise guitar and sloganeering lyrics. The rock influences are obvious: Spacemen 3, the Jesus & Mary Chain, XTRMNTR-era Primal Scream. But Ulterior have spent plenty of time in techno clubs too, and acknowledge debts to Chris McCormack, Ade Fenton and Terence Fixmer.

There’s nothing contrived about Ulterior’s techno rock fusion: they simply want to reflect everything they love, and they’re pretty clear about what that is – and what it’s not. Machines operator Benn McGregor pronounces that Ulterior are, in musical terms, “total fascists”. There’s no place for sentimentality or “twee indie poetry bollocks” on their agenda. It’s all about blowing minds.

Benn is the younger of two brothers at Ulterior’s core. Born in Liverpool, singer Paul is a self-confessed “mouthy northerner”, and his version of the band’s history runs like this: they formed in Nottingham, realised there were no good bands there, moved to London, realised there were no good bands there either, and decided to take on the world. The first time I met Paul, in late ’06, he was full of scorn for bands on the Hoxton scene. Now he wishes those bands well; he’s looking to take on U2.

Lofty ambitions guide his lyric-writing too. His benchmark is The Holy Bible, the Manic Street Preachers’ militant, hyper-erudite third LP. Another major obsession is The Journal of Albion Moonlight, a book by Kenneth Patchen. Don’t call Paul McGregor arty, though. ‘Arty’ is a swearword in Ulterior’s universe. So is ‘indie’.

When they first came to notice, Ulterior were a three-piece, with London-reared guitarist Paul Simmons adding drones, feedback and as few notes as possible. Early in 2007, after an intense debate during a 13-hour flight delay at Stansted, they decided to bring in a fourth member, a Lithuanian named Karl Januskevicius. The aim was to gain fresh input and take the pressure off Benn, who’d been managing the band, booking its gigs and writing its music, alongside a day job.

Before you can be part of the band you must be part of the gang, and Karl had earned his stripes by bonding with Benn over a shared love of early Manics and early Suede. It was merely a happy coincidence that he knew his way round a synth.

Karl’s recruitment seems to have coincided with a push toward the mainstream. Paul McGregor used to talk up the techno angle; now he talks of melodies and big choruses. He makes no bones about it: he wants his band to get big and make money. However, women and drugs don’t come into Ulterior’s game plan. According to Paul Simmons, they didn’t need to form a band to get plenty of both.

There’s little danger of Ulterior blanding out to get big. This becomes clear when Benn enthuses about his new favourite band, Zeigenbock Kopf, a faux-gay, faux-German hardcore band from San Francisco. When Benn delivers a shouted rendition of their song ‘Sex With A Man’, he discovers a good way of startling early-evening drinkers.

Recent Ulterior shows have been uncompromising, to say the least. Supporting White Rose Movement, a disengaged Paul McGregor was moved to scold the audience: “It’s dance music, you boring cunts.” Supporting their heroes ARE Weapons, however, Ulterior turned in a brilliantly aggressive set.

On other occasions the aggression has spilled over into violence. The day before our meeting, Benn and Paul McGregor appeared in court on charges of common assault, arising from a gig at east London’s Old Blue Last where the plug was pulled and a fight broke out. The McGregors make a point of saying that they can’t tolerate people invading the stage, but both deny that any extreme violence took place that night. Benn even pulls out the witness statements so that I might judge for myself.

This is typical of Ulterior. They’re open and direct to a fault. After interviews, bands often ask you to leave their slagging of other bands out of the piece. Benn does the opposite: he requests that I mention his opinion of Klaxons, who he reckons have been showing up at Ulterior gigs and stealing ideas. For the record, then: Benn McGregor hates Klaxons.

Raging passion infuses not just Ulterior’s sonic onslaught, but everything they say and do. It’s a force that proves irresistible. I DJed before an Ulterior set once, and decided that ‘Rocket USA’ by Suicide would be a good thing to play. As it came on, Paul Simmons shouted, “Turn it up!” I glanced his way and realised he wasn’t joking. “TURN IT UP!”

I turned it up.

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