Portion Control saw the daylight in 1979. Set up by Dean Piavani, Ian Sharp and John Whybrew the London (UK) based formation started releasing their early work on tape format. The band splitted in 1987 to move on three years later under the SOLAR ENEMY moniker. Core members Dean Piavani (vocals) and John Whybrew (music) reformed PORTION CONRTROL in 2002. The band belongs to the pioneers of electro-underground music. Often linked with EBM I think the band is much more than simply belonging to one genre. The influences are more diversified and that’s precisely what theband’s new album “Head Buried” (Progress Productions) reveals. I asked a few questions to John Whybrew.
(Courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)
Q: “Head Buried” is your first new studio album since “Pure Form” (2012). Did you expect a new album after such a long ‘break’ and what have been the triggers to compose new songs?
John: We were conscious that there had been a long gap since “Pure Form”, but we had built up a number of new songs, principally for live and the odd compilation. We took the decision to write a few new tracks and combine them into a mini album – hence “Head Buried”. There was no ‘trigger’ as such the timing just seemed to work. Our lifeblood is our new work and we are extremely lucky that these are accepted when we perform live. We are creative and inquisitive by nature and have always been interested in the development of VST effects and synths, although many aren’t suited to creating the darker electronic music genres or rely on loops and presets that can damage originality.
Q: When did you start composing the songs for “Head Buried”? What kind of album did you have in mind and was there any specific focus and/or concept/theme?
John: We don’t have specific album themes, just themes that arise and merge into the tracks as they develop. Lyrically Dean has total control and I have virtually no input, but we are aligned politically and philosophically. Once we have the music in bare bone form, Dean will add the vocals and then it is worked and shaped into the finished track. Often the vocals will drive ideas in the sound design. Tracks can change in tone and aspect completely and still our musical ineptness adds as much to the end result as anything else. Having worked together for so many years we know when a sound or sequence is right for PORTION CONTROL and with sound design being so important time isn’t wasted.
Q: I experienced some duality running through “Head Buried”; it features danceable songs, but still a very experimental side. Where does this duality comes from and tell us a bit more about the more experimental side?
John: We have always favoured more experimental electronic music it can be more satisfying with repeated plays as you hear all the nuances, but at the same time a good bass line and kick hasn’t lost its appeal. Unfortunately the experimental side seems to have diminished from the scene in general with a lot of cookie cutter stuff created. I guess it’s to maximise sales, which is understandable if your living is from your music. I also think YouTube is too blame with many electronic music tutorials treating music like photoshop or a science when it’s ideas that are most important. From our point of view we like the ambient stuff and it is important to our creativity. To nurture this aspect we are always looking for inspirational places to create. We first used this tactic on “Filthy White Man” where we used a caravan park in Peacehaven (near Brighton) as well as a chapel in Hertfordshire. We use laptops only, no messy midi cabling, we had enough of this in an earlier life, but our surroundings definitely have a bearing on creation. Sometimes a cosy familiar home studio can retard creation. As for the more regular PC tracks these can incorporated into our live sets with a healthy sprinkling of noise/ambience as well.
Q: Do you handle specific criteria and eventually references to say a song/album is finished? And is there a kind of self-criticism when you’ve achieved a new song/album?
John: For any release it’s a case of balance. It can take a long time for the tracks to evolve into finished pieces. If tracks are stalling I usually turn to sound design where I will bounce out samples in various versions for inclusion into material at a later date. Once a track has been finished and a rough mix achieved we will critique it.
Q: The album was originally announced as a digital only (self)-release, but it seems that Progress Productions convinced you to release a CD format as well. We’ve to face reality, CD’s are no longer selling so I can imagine it must be a horrible thing to observe this decline! What are your thoughts about this (r)evolution?
John: We aren’t really bothered by the demise of CDs, we never liked the format anyway. We have always embraced changes, and have seen a lot through our existence. It is sad that small bands and independent labels have such a tough time making any money, particularly in our scene when all we are seeking is a modest profit. However, Bandcamp and a few other niche online sellers at least it ‘s possible for bands to self-publish and promote. We have learnt to take nothing for granted and that nothing stands still for long.
Q: I noticed the album is also released by Kinetik Records as cassette format. This is the way you originally started to release your early stuff in the 80s. More and more artists today release cassettes again –mainly as collector’s items, but what’s the real point here considering younger fans don’t even have a cassette player?
John: Cassettes were pretty influential to the early British Industrial scene with releases like ‘Rising From The Red Sands’ etc. They were cheap to produce and seemed quite neat. A certain ratios the superb ghost and the ballroom came in a green plastic pouch. Our own “Assault”-tape was a release we valued as much as any of the vinyls. I must admit we aren’t a bit interested in keeping old technology and haven’t owned cassette decks for many years. Kinetik released small amounts of vinyl and cassette versions, the vinyl seems to have sold out and the cassettes are still available so they probably are a bit ancient. We are planning our next release on Super 8…
Q: The world is actually going through the Covid-19 pandemic, which is also a real bad thing for the artistic life. Do you feel any impact and especially after having released a new album this year? And what are your thoughts about the Brexit and the consequences for your activities?
John: The pandemic has halted all live activity which is an important part of our scene. It also appears that it will take a while for this activity to resume which is understandable but unfortunate. It is a bad thing but the pandemic has impacted every aspect of life for all of us so it’s just a question of keeping safe until it eventually abates or is assimilated into everyday life.
As for Brexit, if and when it happens, I doubt it will mean anything in the context of bands and it has been such an exhausting topic.
Q: I can easily imagine you guys have seen it all, but do you still have challenges and topics you want to work on and realize? Can you look into the future?
John: We don’t have any challenges and consider ourselves in a good position. One ambition we had was to play in Japan, but this will likely go unfulfilled as we are doing absolutely nothing to realise it. Most importantly we have a planned series of downloadable EPs about to drop over the coming months. The first of these is called ‘SEED’ and contains 4 triple A tracks. The second is currently being worked on… we strongly believe that these allow fuller artistic control, and a quicker route to market than fastidiously working on a full length CD. We are proud “SEED” and it is available right now from ourselves or Bandcamp. Our thirst for creation and resolve to stay true to our sound hasn’t abated even over our protracted career.