The Carbon/Silicon partners look inward

Mick Jones and Tony James are part of Britain’s rock heritage thanks to their groups the clash and Sigue Sigue Sputnik, but they’re also part of its future with Carbon/Silicon.

As musical innovators come Carbon/Silicon are up there with the best. With The Clash Mick Jones helped bring funk, hip-hop, reggae and rockabilly into the narrow punk genre.

With Joe Strummer, the guitarist wrote and sung The Clash’s canon of rock classics from the early garage sound of ‘White Riot’ and ‘Career Opportunities’ to the trippy, expansive and genreless ‘Sandinista’.

Later with Big Audio Dynamite and Dreadzone (both underrated) he pushed the boundaries even further using samples and Mick’s rapper delivery. Tony James has known Jones over 30 years when he was also a mover in the early punk movement. The duo were briefly in the London SS but musically went their separate ways. Bassist James formed Generation X with Billy Idol in 1976 bringing punk to a more mainstream audience with their self-titled debut and follow-up ‘Valley Of The Dolls’.

In the next decade Tony indulged his passion for electronic music founding Sigue Sigue Sputnik whose new wave music and futuristic visual imagery stunned pop.

The pair have been putting out music as Carbon/Silicon on the web since 2002 - Tony is a major technophile. Initially building songs around classic rock samples they’re now releasing their first physical release ‘The News EP’.

Clash Mag’ met the duo at Mick’s West London studio where the two were suited and booted in smart pinstripes. We were shown in, handed cans of Kronenbourg and given a tour of the vast library of Jones’ next door.

So we sat back and watched them chat…

Tony: Well we started this 5 years ago when I had an idea for a song called ‘MP Free’. It’s a song about freedom of music on the internet. We can make the music and go to the laptop and put it straight on the Internet.

Mick: It’s now the same as when we came in with Punk. The same situation now only they can’t figure out how to get it under control. It’s like what we did in the old days.

Tony: The deal with the Internet is that we don’t have to deal with corporations who are only interested in money. Now so many artists come along and just put four songs on MySpace.

Mick: They don’t know nothing about music. It should be about our creative culture- so we aren’t gonna dance to their tune anymore. Things move on and we adapt to it and embrace the new technology.

Tony: Carbon/Sillicon grew organically but we had to do it with dignity. When we first started we sampled MC5 and The Who and put it over dance beats. That meant the first album was unreleasable!

Mick: That’s where it came from but it’s now a traditional 4-piece band with Leo from Dreadzone and the drummer Dominic, who was in Reef.

Tony: Now we’re playing rock and roll by understanding dance. We phased out the samples so the songs don’t have any loops in.

Mick: Where do you get your ideas from then?

Tony: You never know what comes into your mind. I write a lot driving at 80mph and listening to techno music. Years ago Alan McGee asked me to DJ at Death Disco so I started making mash ups of rock over dance beats. People aren’t using loops of rock and roll groups like Slade and the MC5 so I did and it gave us this fresh exciting pallet. That early stuff we are remixing at the moment it’s gonna be impossible to release it because of all the samples.

Mick: I really like that idea of a blank page and turning it into some-thing. Our track ‘Third World War Poetry’ is about England and on ‘Why Do Men Fight’ I wanted to say what it’s like to be us.

Tony: It’s like I come in with a pitch and then you make it into a song.

Mick: And I’m better at everything now, writing songs, playing the guitar. I always felt I was too young for things; I always wanted to be older. The good thing is even now we haven’t stopped learning. If I stopped learning I’d be a stalactite! We get into a band and find out what inspires them. It’s a line that runs both ways. You pass it on. It s like in The Exorcist when your head turns round. That’s why The Libertines were important because we (Jones produced both their albums) did the records in the old way.

Tony: Do you remember where we first met?

Mick: I think we met in the Fulham Greyhound, it was a hairy metal kids gig. I was about to get chucked out of the group (The London SS) so they brought you down to pal up with me. We both had long hair. He came in with a semi-mullet and a budgie jacket. When you were in Generation X we always remained friends. I liked all the Sigue Sigue Sputnik stuff - they were really ahead of their time.

Tony: What scares you most?

Mick: Fame - we know the shit parts of it and we are beginning to see it again. You can’t say you don’t want to be famous when you are already but there are all the contradictions that come with it. You have to wonder if you’re verging on narcissism though I’m really proud of all The Clash stuff. Like Malcolm (McClaren) said to us at the time, “Don’t think about things too much”.

Tony: You have to make music but the other stuff is bullshit. We always describe it as climbing a mountain. When you are young you get up faster. For our third time up the mountain we’re more careful cos now we know how scary it is getting to the top. We are trying to enjoy the moment though.

WORDS BY THOMAS THOROGOOD
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