Alien Sex Fiend are true outcasts.
Arriving too late for punk’s party, the band’s glamorous yet distorted take on the Rockabilly look marked them out on the nascent goth scene. Famously formed at infamous nightspot the Bat Cave, Nik Wade (Nik Fiend) and Chrissie Wade (Mrs Fiend) had a harder, brittle edge which their contemporaries lacked.
Adding inspiration to the Industrial scene, the band’s output is still difficult to classify. Effectively a genre of their own, ClashMusic writer Sam Walker-Smart recently tracked down Alien Sex Fiend in order to explore the sonic and sartorial developments of the Industrial movement.
Sucked into a parallel, twilight world ClashMusic felt obliged to publish the entire interview. Read on…
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First are foremost, where did the inspiration for the horror imagery come from?
Nik Fiend: That’s what I’ve always been into. I’ve always incorporated something of that nature into my musical excursions from the outset, even pre-Alien Sex Fiend with my punk bands like Demon Preacher & The Demons, we did a photo session in Highgate Cemetery way back in 1979. Since I was a kid I was fascinated by horror stuff. The film “Plague Of the Zombies” was on TV & I shouldn’t have been watching it, I was only a tiny little fella, I sneaked down the stairs to look at it through the bannisters & suddenly these dead people started popping out of the ground. I was intrigued from that moment onwards! Later, as a teenager, I saw Christopher Lee’s Dracula & other classic Hammer horrors, later on I got to see Bela Lugosi & Boris Karloff films, but anything of that nature interests me, the imagery & so on. And not just films, but comics too, I could be here for ages listing them all!
Mrs Fiend : Even before ASF, Nik & I would go to see late night films, & then when we discovered that The Scala in King’s Cross (London) was running old black & white horror & science fiction movies like “Creature From the Black Lagoon”, “Forbidden Planet”, “Freaks”, “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, we went regularly.
Nik Fiend : & it wasn’t too expensive to get in either! Cos TV was shit in those days. TV shut down by midnight, there was nothing like a horror TV channel, there was no DVD …
Mrs Fiend : Amazing innit kids??!! Even video was fairly new in the early 80s, tapes were expensive & anyway a lot of that stuff wasn’t available to buy. Later on we knew people who could get hold of pirate copies of the “Evil Dead” & “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” so we got to see those on well dodgy tapes before we could buy proper versions, which we still have now.
Did you ever have any particularly extremely negative reactions to ASF’s look and stage performance?
Mrs Fiend: (Laughs)
Nik Fiend: Particularly early on yes, & it has continued in later years a bit, but I wouldn’t say it was negative, the general public seemed to be more baffled or puzzled by our appearance than anything else…
Mrs Fiend : In the US they thought we were dressed up early for Halloween & that was without the make-up! That was still the reaction in parts of the mid-west even into the 90s. We just found it highly amusing. In the UK we would get comments from passers-by asking if we’d had a severe electric shock because our hair was sticking up on-end. But again that was funny. I think the biggest reaction was from some Japanese fans who had screaming hysterics when they saw Nik in the street still in his make-up from a TV show. & we did stop an entire hotel restaurant in LA in mid-conversation when we walked through en-route to a gig. But I don’t think we give out a threatening vibe so the reactions have always been more “What the f***?”
Nik Fiend: From the music side though we really seemed to wind certain people right up & the media in particular were very negative.
Mrs Fiend: Other than a few notable exceptions like Mick Mercer – who “got us” pretty much straight away.
Nik Fiend: But the fans seemed to like it despite the negativity & they came to gigs & bought the records. Any negativity got turned around. Like the very first review by Colin Irwin of a demo tape in Melody Maker (RIP) that said “We were the ugliest thing in the name of music”. Well, the Batcave people saw that review & from that we got our first ever gig & that’s coming up to 30 years ago!
Mrs Fiend: It took time for other people to get their heads around our music I think. We’ve had journalists apologise to us in later years for their earlier negativity. Yet despite those criticisms the audiences were going mental…
Nik Fiend: They would go ape shit.
Mrs Fiend: They’d never seen anything like it..
Nik Fiend: Or heard anything like us.
Would you say the Batcave was melting pot for the darker post-punk and industrial genres?
Mrs Fiend: Yes, but it was in the time well before the term “industrial” was in use.
Nik Fiend: It was certainly a melting pot of creative people of all sorts – artists, DJs, toasters (rappers), bands, photographers, fashion designers, artists, every type of creative person hung out there & everyone was looking for “something different”.
Mrs Fiend: It’s like punk was before it, there seemed to be “something in the air” in general & people were looking for what was going to happen next.
Nik Fiend: We linked up with various groups of people as we went around on tour in the UK, people who were disconnected like us, people who were into what we were doing. It was a gathering of misfits really, all with the same attitude. We got to know each other & it all spread out. A lot of punks & psychobilly people were into us as well, they liked The Cramps & us.
Mrs Fiend: We even managed to win over some hardcore Meteors fans, despite playing slower songs & not the more psychobilly songs like “Boneshaker Baby”! At that time there weren’t all the different types of clubs around that you have now, back then (in London) there were only a few late night clubs, so a lot of the fetish, later to-be-industrial, gay people, punks looking for something else, assorted weirdos & anyone else who didn’t fit into a particular scene ended up going to The Batcave.
So with that spread of people it was bound to be a major melting pot. Whether The Batcave was the sole source is open to debate, as we said there seemed to be “something in the air” around the UK at the time, but it was definitely a major contributor.
Aside from yourself what other groups do your personally feel used electronics and synths in the scene to really push the envelope?
Nik Fiend: There was no scene that sounded like ASF really, we were one band out of the Batcave bands, the other bands sounded different to us.
Although we were in it, in some respects we were apart from it. Some may have had a synth in their set up but they sounded more “rock” or “glam rock” to us, & although we love that stuff we sounded different! The only band at that time that sounded like us was us.
Mrs Fiend: I think it’s the same now!
Nik Fiend : I think we were & are more akin to The Velvet Underground doing “Sister Ray”, in that a song went on for ages, explored different areas & no-one was quite sure who was making what noise! (Laughing) Everything blended into everything else.
Mrs Fiend: The electronics side was very new back then, & there weren’t that many contemporary bands to look at, maybe Bauhaus & Killing Joke, who had both sort of “made it” by then. But electronically Suicide were a bigger influence…
Nik Fiend: They were ground breakers, & they went against the grain. Tuxedo Moon’s “Room With A View” & Cabaret Voltaire’s “Nag, Nag, Nag” were 2 others that spring to mind..
Mrs Fiend: We were taking influences from a very wide range of stuff, we would listen to everything from classical to Iggy Pop & The Stooges. So we brought in a whole load of disparate elements into ASF. When we heard stuff like Depeche Mode it sounded very light weight, though I like their later stuff like “Personal Jesus” but that’s way heavier than they were early on.
Nik Fiend: New Order, even Sisters Of Mercy were quite light …
Mrs Fiend: Especially at the bottom end – ooh er missus! (Laughing) & though we liked some of their stuff we were heavier.
Nik Fiend: & we liked it that way. When we first went to New York in 1983 we found that a song like our “Lips Can’t Go” was more akin to what was happening on the underground radio station – the original Kiss FM. They used to play mega-mixes by various DJs, we even heard early Run DMC & Grandmaster Flash & that sounded like what we were already doing.
Mrs Fiend: “Forbidden Planet” & other sci-fi movies or the original 60s Dr Who theme were influential. We weren’t hearing anyone else doing what we were doing.
Nik Fiend: Even in 1985 when we played The Hippodrome the manager asked our booking agent if he had any more bands like ASF, he laughed & said there is only one ASF! & he’s say the same thing now!
Mrs Fiend: For me, the real envelope pushers didn’t come until the late 80s with the advent of Acid House & Techno. They were new young musicians & just like us when we started they couldn’t afford the new spiffy digital equipment so they bought the stuff no-one else wanted – namely old analogue gear mostly bought from 2nd hand shops, & yes you really could get a 303 for a tenner in Oxfam back then!
What sort of equipment were you using in the early days to get those beats and drones?
Mrs Fiend: It was all analogue, & I still use most of it!
Nik Fiend: Cheap was the operative word in our world! If it made a noise that we liked & we could afford it, we used it. Back then, bands like say New Order had expensive gear we couldn’t afford, so we couldn’t have sounded like that even if we’d wanted to.
Mrs Fiend: No, we couldn’t afford to buy a poly synth at all first off (which can play more than one note at a time) so I had to be the “one fingered” keyboard player for a while, even though I’d had some years of piano lessons & was quite capable of playing chords – thank you very much! But I think those restrictions made us sound different…
Nik Fiend: & made it what it was.
Mrs Fiend: & we’ve tried to keep to that idea ever since. In the early 80s cheap synths & drum machines were starting to become available, so we used a mixture of those new electronics with the older, or more established guitar & drum kit. The first gear I had was a small casio keyboard, an echo unit & a £25 syndrum. We’ve added more gear to that over the years, now I’m like bleeding Rick Wakeman (laughing) surrounded by keyboards & drum machines!
Nik Fiend: (Laughing)
Mrs Fiend: Those days were even pre-MIDI – which anyone doing music now would be very surprised by! We had to find other ways to sync up different bits of equipment. I would hate to rely on a computer. I’ve seen it happen live – the computer goes down & the band cannot do ANYTHING while the whole system re-boots. That would be a nightmare. I still have hand percussion around – just in case! It can take a bit of time to set up the analogue gear between songs sometimes but I really am playing all the stuff live folks!
Nik Fiend: & it’s worth waiting for! With early drum machines a lot of people tried to make them sound like proper drums, like it was a drummer, whereas we didn’t – we liked the idea of a constant beat, it gets you looped in. To me, that’s what early trance dance music was trying to do, to get people looped in. We met loads of the early trance & techno bods & many of them said that ASF had been a big influence on them starting up, people like Andrew Weatherall, The Orb, Hallucinogen, Drum Club. They liked that our music was heavier electronically than other bands, we were more industrial, mutant, thumping punk psychedelia!
Mrs Fiend: There were no samplers in those days either. Fairlights did appear but you could have almost bought a flat for the price of one of those, so we had to wait until cheaper samplers appeared in the late 80s. Up til then we occasionally used cassette tapes instead. So that’s the key really, use what you can afford & turn it into your own style.
Where you surprised to see the look and style you helped pioneer continue to remain popular in the 90’s. Especially with the American wave of industrial acts?
Mrs Fiend: The New Romantic thing which was around when we started up…
Nik Fiend: Didn’t wash with everybody.
Mrs Fiend: It was too clean for a lot of people.
Nik Fiend: & a bit pricey for clothes..
Mrs Fiend: All those ruffles darling! (Laughs)
Nik Fiend: (Laughing) Most people we knew could afford to buy a pair of black trousers, but there were no “goth” or “industrial” clothes shops AT ALL – you could not be “goth off the peg”!! You had to use your imagination & due to a lack of money we would dye clothes & decorate them.
Mrs Fiend: Nik even made a skull potato print to do up T-shirts & stuff…
Nik Fiend: Black is perfect for touring clothes – if you spill yer dinner down yerself you can sponge it off! (Laughing) It wasn’t a fashion statement at the time, it was simply the clothes that we owned.
Mrs Fiend: & all black is simple – cos everything matches!I Adding studs or chains is an easy thing to do & you don’t even need to be able to sew.
Nik Fiend: Doc Marten boots, black trousers, a T-shirt & a leather jacket for your passport & bits & you are good to go!. We never had a stylist (ha!!) (though some bands did!) & necessity is the mother of invention as they say.
Mrs Fiend: In a way, it’s not surprising that it’s all continued on from those days. We met up with Skinny Puppy at a festival in Germany & Ogre was saying how they’d seen us in 1984 & that influenced them to start up a band? So no doubt those American bands are picking up stuff from them, if not directly from us, & so it goes on, influences travel out.
Nik Fiend: What does surprise us though is how far reaching “goth”, “gothic”, “darkwave”, “industrial” & all the other terms that get used have become, it has all kept on increasing, it’s bigger now than ever. In a way it’s a shame that the amazing number of European festivals devoted to the music now didn’t exist in the early days. & it’s gone completely worldwide, we have fans in Chile, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Ukraine, everywhere…
Mrs Fiend : & so many bands have been drawn into the genre, industrial links up with post punk which links up with goth & so on, it’s all linked.
When you look back to those formative years, when the scene was finding its feet, what image and emotion sticks out most in your mind?
Mrs Fiend: For me, most of that time we felt very much out on our own, although there had been some sort of “scene” started up with the Batcave, out in the big world we were very much odd ball & I think we still are. We have a sense of humour which doesn’t appeal to some people, they prefer their music to be “serious”. We ARE serious about what we do, but we like to have a good time & give the audience a good time, & give them a laugh at points. After all, that’s needed more & more these days isn’t it? A good ol’ laugh!
Nik Fiend: When we went to the US the other bands that had preceded us were Sisters Of Mercy & New Order, both of those had a certain level of commercial success & positive exposure in the media. We were like poor cousins, I never thought we’d get to the US. The Batcave album got us some attention but it was the “Ignore The Machine” single that really did it. & we’re still great friends with the record company guy who put that out!
We never expected it to last this long, I thought we’d maybe get 1 gig, cos we were so oddball, so we decided to just go for it. It’s a mystery to me how so many people have now heard of us, cos we’ve never had anywhere near the same level of promotion & marketing as a lot of other bands, We had very little of that, no radio pluggers, etc. It’s all grown & grown over the years – I think that’s what amazes me the most.
Finally, any new ASF music on the way?
Nik Fiend: Always! We are always doing some thing to do with ASF!
We released the Death Trip album in 2010 & it’s proved to be really popular with our fans. Mick Mercer said it was the best ASF record since the 80s…
Mrs Fiend: Though some fans have disputed that cos they love all our albums!
Nik Fiend: Kris Needs even said we were national treasures cos we’re still at it! We couldn’t get enough of the Death Trip album ourselves, we kept getting sucked back in, listening through to out takes & demo versions of songs & then we had a go at remixing some of them, checking out different perspectives, so with the fans wanting more we thought that it’d be cool to take the whole concept of the album further & work towards creating a “Death Trip 2″ album, though we haven’t decide on a definite title yet. Since the earliest days of ASF we’d do different versions of songs & back then there was plenty of room for such alternate mixes on 12″ singles, or there’d be different mixes on the 7 & 12 inchers”, but this would be a different way of doing that, as an album!
Mrs Fiend: We don’t have a release date yet but it shouldn’t be too long. & in between that we have our 30th anniversary year coming up, so we’re organising to play a number of live shows in Europe & the UK.
Nik Fiend: Yep, it’s all happening – maaan!
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