Sound with vision
DON'T TALK TO ROBERT HAMPSON ABOUT ROCK MUSIC. As the leader of Loop, his cyclic guitar structures were a bracing slap in the face of Britain's fashion-driven music scene. After Loop's distintegration and one short European trek as a member of Godflesh, Hampson downshifted gears from Loop's full metal racket with his new muse, Main. Abetted by guitarist Scott Dowson, Main explore various textural nuances to broaden the capability of guitars.
"We have sincerely gotten rid of all the standard rock cliches," says Hampson. "The basic structure of Main is that we think of ourselves more as an environmental band than an ambient band. We're not about creating ambient space that you can chill out to; it is taking all the things that surround you all the time and meshing them together and hopefully creating a new form of music out of it all. We're utilizing the hums and noise that surround you all the time in the same way that Sonic Youth and John Zorn did for New York. When you live in a town or a city, total silence just does not exist. There's always something going on. We were trying to imitate these sounds with guitars and a few effects pedals."
The duo's first album HYDRA-CALM was two lengthy EPs joined together for maximum tremor. The band's full-length release MOTION POOL presented sonic cascades and monolithic slabs of sound reverberating as if you were trapped in a menacing skyscraper that ended past the heavens. FIRMAMENT, the latest Main communique, is waves of sound washing over the listener with a wider ebbing and flowing that comes off irresistably narcotic. The careless use of adjectives like "rock" or "ambient" to describe Main has proved problematic to Hampson.
"The thing about ambient music is that basically 95 percent of music listeners think 'ambient' means the Orb or Aphex Twin. If you look at all of Brian Eno's original liner notes about ambient music, you'll find their music goes against the actual purpose. I recently read an interview with Eno and he totally hit the nail on the head when he said, 'It's too busy, it's too aggressive, it's too loud.' I couldn't agree more. Even some of our stuff is too dense; there's too much happening.
"I think music is in such a fucking quandry at the moment," he continues, fidgeting in his chair. "I really think music doesn't know what to do with itself. Everyone is saying how all this rave stuff is such a breath of fresh air and everybody's standing in a field dropping lots of drugs and listening to the same record all night. That's where I say 'fuck this' because you're only saying this because you're out of your brains."
Does rock music suck?
"It does now," he fires back. "Very tepid. I've been to all the record shops and I can't find anything I like. Even the bands I used to like don't do anything for me at all."
Despite Main's frequent namecheck within the isolationism scene, Hampson finds the term pejorative.
"I don't like the term. I'm worried that the whole aesthetic behind it has painted itself into a corner. It's already bracketed itself into a pigeonhole as far as I'm concerned. But I guess that's only because I can't stand being tagged one thing or another."
Althought the duo has done some one-off live shows, Hampson wants to concentrate on extensive recording. Main will be releasing six vinyl-only EPs in Europe, that Beggars Banquet will compile onto two CDs for domestic consumption later this year. Although he may bristle at how Main are sometimes perceived, irony tends to make a sound of its own.
"I remember a review from something like the BIRMINGHAM EVENING NEWS, a local paper," he recalls. "It was a two-word review of DRY STONE FEED and FIRMAMENT. All it said was, 'Nothing happens.' It's classic! We're destined to put it on a t-shirt."
Originally appeared in Alternative Press, issue #81, April 1995
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