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A Magazine for Sheffield

Eccentronic Research Council: Witch hunts and analogue synths

The ERC is the brainchild of Sheffield dwellers Dean Honer and Adrian Flanagan. Their latest satirical electro offering 1612 Underture is fronted by actor Maxine Peake (Shameless, See No Evil: The Moor Murders) and explores the persecution of the Pendle Witches during the Lancashire witch trials. The record is an audio journey holding a mirror up to contemporary society's penchant for working class scapegoating, with Peake's sharp tongued spoken word and spine chilling cackle underlaid with Honer and Flanagan's motorik beats and theramin creepings. We spoke to Adrian after the group's show at Queens Social Club last month. Where did your fascination with the Pendle Witch trials spring from? How much was informed by text book history and how much by your own imagination? As a kid I'd be marched to the top of Pendle Hill by my parents once a month and told if I didn't hurry up that witches would get me. Knowing I couldn't rely on Ester Rantzen to save me from this very subtle form of abuse disguised as exercise, I'd run as quick as my little legs could take me and get to the top of the hill. No witch ever caught me but my parents were reaching for the inhalers whilst sparking up fags. A few years ago, Maxine and I met after she did a video for me for my Chanteuse & The Crippled Claw music project. I asked her to dress as a bunny rabbit and chase me round a moor in Salford for this video we were making. I was probably taking my life in my hands as she'd not long played Myra Hindley in a hit TV drama and I wasn't sure if she was still a bit "method". Anyway I survived and we kept in touch. We got talking about the Pendle Witches and how we were both into the story, and just said we should do something on them. We didn't know what it was going to be or how it was going to manifest itself, but we thought it would be a nice little side project to get our teeth into. You're fans of Belbury Poly, Broadcast and the Ghostbox label, all similarly interested in British past and folklore, re-imagined or otherwise. Were you influenced by these folks or did your experimentation with these themes and electronics come about without consideration? Dean and I have been into a lot of 50s and 60s early electronic pioneers for years - people like Daphne Oram, Delia Derbyshire, Bruce Haack, Ruth White, Mort Garcon. Lots of music from children's TV in the 70s when we little kids too - stuff like The Children of the Stones, The Owl Service and Sky. Weird scary kids TV. You wouldn't dare move from behind your pillow while it was on. I personally really love Broadcast. We love the Ghostbox label too and a lot of the artists on there. I guess we are kindred spirits in the sense of how we put music together and our influences, but I think what separates us is the words. I get the hauntology link and how things are informed by the past and echo through time, but I try and anchor those distant analogue sounds with words that walk hand-in-hand with the present and the past, the weird and the normal. You put on quite a theatrical performance and manage to evoke a pretty eerie atmosphere... We like to communicate with our audiences, we take chances, we provoke reactions - that doesn't really happen with outsider electronic music too often. The subject matter is really resonating with people. Yes, we do have someone onstage with us who does theatre and comes from the acting profession, but what we have Maxine doing in The ERC is a million miles away from the strict world of theatre and film. It sounds mad but Maxine is probably the best front person in the country right now. Seriously, she's fucking immense. She's a working class outsider like us but subverting from the inside. I love her very much. What sort of field recordings did you get? Wind and rain on Pendle Hill, traffic noises on the side of the A666 in Bolton, a horse and cart in Chapletown. We also built a table with microphones on either side and slid a glass from one side of the table to the other to suggest meddling with a Ouija board. You've released 1612 Underture on Finders Keepers Records. How did you get involved with them? I used to mither local promoters in Sheffield to book lots of acts on Andy Votel's Twisted Nerve label, so I met Andy quite a few times. I wanted our record to come out on a Lancashire label as it's kind of my love letter to the area. So Dean and I set up a meeting with Andy and Doug from the label on top of a foggy hill in Edale. We passed over our first unmixed rough draft of the album to them. They played it on a portable Walkman while we stood on this bloody hill with our hoods up like bearded Mafioso types wearing cag in a bags. For us, coming from electro pop backgrounds, it was nice to not think inside that poppy box and unlearn what we knew. That was definitely when things started to get interesting. I insisted it come out on the 400th anniversary of the hanging of the Pendle Witches and that it was released on Finders Keepers sister label Bird Records. The rest will go down in the annals of unpopular music [laughs]. Your tracks are politically motivated beyond the initial concept album, making parallels between 17th century witch trials and contemporary car crash reality TV like Jeremy Kyle. What is the thread that links the 21st century televised stocks with the fate of those persecuted in the past? I just don't like bullies of any kind - TV execs sat in board rooms scratching their arses while talking about what minority, what culture, what skint, poorly uneducated person with the balls to dream can we take the piss out of now?! Tuesday nights on Channel 4 between 9pm and 10pm every week without fail is that board meeting made real. It's people being taken advantage of as entertainment for people who think they are superior. And I speak as an Undateable. I guess our album is a tiny victory of sorts. It's raised lots of people's awareness about the injustice, mistreatment and misunderstanding of witches. It's got people talking about it nationally. It's given something marginalised a loud speaker, while at the same time addressing the current state this country is in and how the government are doing exactly the same thing now as they did then - fucking over the poor, the disabled, the unemployed, the single mothers, the low waged, the children. I see David Cameron as a Jimmy Savile type character, abusing the poor and the vulnerable, whilst Clegg is like those morally decent people who knows what he is doing is wrong but never does anything to stop it. He's implicit. To be honest, we all are. I've said it before - you ain't gonna change anything by shouting "Oggy Oggy Oggy" at the town hall steps. The ERC will be setting up a new cassette label called Desolate Spools to release limited and exclusive ERC content, sound experiments, curious collaborations and one-of-a-kind artifacts. They will also start writing and recording the next ERC LP with Maxine Peake over the coming months. )

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