The, if not suitably, then fantastically named Uniform comprise Alice Kemp and Wajid Yaseen, two sound artists of considerable pedigree. He, former bassist in nineties band Fun-Da-Mental and mastermind behind Mute Records’ distorted electronica project 2nd Gen; she, multi-instrumentalist and performance artist who has collaborated with the likes of Hilary Jeffrey, Dual, Defeatist and Ringo Christ. Never one to repeat themselves on record or in person, Uniform’s dark blend of fractured electronic soundscapes (with the odd, odd analogue instrument thrown in) creates an opulent backdrop for each purposefully unique performance, as well as the opportunity to enlist the help of some legendary guest vocalists. Check out current album ‘Protocol’ for appearances by Lydia Lunch and Alan Vega (Suicide), to name but a few. Uniform? Hardly.
For the uninitiated, how would you describe what you do?
Wajid: A sort of ominous sensuality if that makes sense, something psycho-sexual. I’ve tried to pin the musical style down but I still haven’t been able to. Avant-garde if you’re looking for a knee-jerk description, although that in itself is a colour wide open. We’re excited by live-art and cross-pollination of arts so we tend to incorporate some sort of live performance whether that’s using contemporary dancers embedded within the crowd, or kinbaku/shibari rope binding masters, or choosing character definitions for ourselves before we play. The important stance is for every performance to be unique to the venue and never to repeat ourselves.
Alice: For my part, one aspect of Uniform is something like a series of experiments. Balancing (or not) sounds like voice (and voices are all so different), trombone, bowed / prepared guitar and bass with high electronic-feeling sound such as subby tunnels and other various sonic splinterings and tearings.
What drives the creative process, both in terms of recording and live performance?
Alice: I have to make sound otherwise I get sick. It really is as simple as that.
Wajid: The recordings initially started out as a means to alleviate and pacify distress. The only way I could solve it was to try and map massive movements for example, solar flares, the waves of global finance etc. Then I started looking at micro events - molecular movements, and began to see some sort of symmetry between the macro and micro.
We reckoned if we could somehow map the sound of this movement, we could tap into the deep psychological realms of ourselves. So we had the basic template of a style, a sound, abstracted but within a frame, natural and fucked up at the same time. It’s given us the ammunition to go anywhere with it and make any style of music with a deep resonance.
Uniform are notable for enlisting a variety of guest vocalists (including Lydia Lunch and Alan Vega) to perform on its records. How does this process take shape? For example, how do you match vocalist to track?
Wajid: We came to a point where we realised that electronic sounds and treated instruments weren’t enough. The human ear has had hundreds of thousands of years of evolution as part of its makeup, so we figured the best way to make the strange soundscapes we were playing with palatable was to use the human voice. So I started making a list of the people whose voices had the sort of distinction we were looking for and deciding which tracks they’d be suitable on. Was a dead simple case of Lydia would be perfect for this one, Dalek for this, Alan for this one, etc. We sent them tracks and they went away like alchemists and came up with the perfect intent for each one.
Alice: Basically I have an aquarium in the back yard. I have 686 crayfish in there and I’ve named every one with the name of an artist who I’d like to work alongside. Every now and again Wajid comes round and, blindfolded, chooses a crayfish who gets transferred to a second tank where a heavy voodoo ritual is performed and the crayfish is set free into the wild. A gentle affirmation, if you will.
You have recently launched your own label, Needle Soup, with a view to releasing ‘off-kilter, outsider music’. What’s the thinking behind the label and what plans do you have for it?
Wajid: The label has nothing to do with Uniform and won’t be releasing any Uniform material. It’s a side project of me and my missus with a view of releasing weird and outer-edge music. The idea was not to be restricted to genre and to focus on ‘outsider’ personalities. It means we can release everything from sonic-art weirdness to alt. folk to contorted hip hip and everything in between. We’re not planning anything major for the label really, there’s too many projects we’re already involved in. But it’ll be good to have released 20 or 30 exceptional releases over time. We’re keeping it strictly limited to 100 copies per release only, with no re-prints or re-releases, and all the sleeves are specially designed silk-screen printed affairs. Almost a wabi-sabi aesthetic.