Interview. Primal Scream release their new album “Chaosmosis” and announce the death of rock
After more than 30 years of furious rock, euphoric pop and hallucinating electro on a plethora of supporting albums, the Glaswegian band continues to electrify its crowds with its latest opus, “Chaosmosis”.
The eternal adolescents and their ecstatic revolution are back. On excellent form, Primal Scream are releasing a new album in the shape of a kaleidoscopic ‘best of’ under the title Chaosmosis. In just ten efficient tracks, and as many hits, the Glaswegian band summarise the best of the last decades: from 80s new wave to early 90s brit-pop and noughties electro. The group have undertaken a double challenge. Far from being a celebration of the past, Chaosmosis forms a joyously musical Barnum, saturated with a hysterical, contemporary and youthful energy. By embracing all musical styles they also succeed in composing a veritable self-portrait, because ever since 1982 Primal Scream has surfed all musical waves, blowing a wind that’s as demonic as it is sunny over these melodious seas. Numéro caught up with one of its founders, Bobby Gillespie, a rock’n’roll legend who’s very much alive and kicking.
Numéro: Chaosmosis is an album whose efficiently melodic tracks fully adopt the pop format. What does pop music mean to a group that’s always maintained its punk spirit?
Bobby Gillespie: When I was a kid I was fascinated by how pop could feminise seriously macho rock’n’roll. A group like Siouxsie and the Banshees really succeeded in building bridges between both genres with dark little gems like Happy House or Spellbound. Behind its apparent innocence pop music treated terrible subjects and the social reality of the era. You had to listen to the lyrics. But current pop is nothing like that. Its sole aim is to get people dancing. In the 70s and 80s it was much more melodic. My 14-year old son listens to Skrillex. When I was his age I was listening to T.Rex and David Bowie. Glam-rock wasn’t underground music; it lived at the top of the charts.
Is that what made you want to do music?
Pop music was like an escape for me, as it was for so many other teenagers then. It represented an opportunity for all the social outcasts and weirdos, like me, to express themselves. When we started our band, we were fans of the Doors, the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, and their albums did nothing less than change our lives. Back then we’d go to an abandoned gymnasium and play our instruments and scream like loonies for hours on end. Screams of rage, that’s what I remember from our beginnings. Primal Scream was born out of our frustration. It was primitive. It was sincere. From then on it was a process of both musical and personal exploration. But I’d never had any intention of joining a band.
When did you first become aware of being a musician, an artist?
Probably when I started playing drums for The Jesus & Mary Chain on their Psychocandy album of 1985 and when I was on their world tour between 1984 and 1986. I remember we even played at the Bains Douche in Paris. Mary Chain was an instantly fantastic band. It took a bit longer for Primal Scream [laughs].
Fundamentalism and capitalism have undermined our ideals, the reason, the Enlightenment. And it’s the poorest and youngest who suffer most in a system where egoism is king, where there are no jobs or only underpaid jobs with no security.
The album Screamadelica, released in 1991, quickly became an iconic record for a whole generation. Its recent reissue has generated those same passions again. Do you know why it’s such a success?
Not really. If it’s so significant for a whole generation, I guess we must have caught the spirit and energy of the early 90s, the emerging electronic music and everything else that went with it in the clubs. It was an album full of hope, even though there was a bit of melancholy too. Screamadelica, with tracks like Higher Than the Sun, is strange. I’m amazed this album appeals to a new generation that wasn’t even born in 1991.
Chaosmosis seems at first glance very optimistic, almost euphoric. But your lyrics are often pretty dark and politically engaged. On the track Golden Rope, you sing, “Capital has colonised us/It rules and it divides us/Leaves a violence deep inside us.”
The market place and capitalism destroys everything. Along with religious fundamentalism, it forms the twin terrors of our époque. They’re poisons. Nationalism, fascism and racism are spreading throughout Europe. They’re right at the gates of power. We built Europe on the values of the Enlightenment so we’d never have to go to war again. And it worked for 70 years. But fundamentalism and capitalism have undermined our ideals, the reason, the Enlightenment. And it’s the poorest and youngest who suffer the consequences. What’s left for them? A system where egoism is king, where there’s no jobs or only underpaid jobs with no security. In England you get employed on a zero-hours contract. There’s not even minimum working hours any more.
And you believe that rock music can still awaken consciences?
Do you think my son cares about rock? Rock groups don’t care about young people anymore. Rock is dead. And actually these groups haven’t cared a toss about the problems in society for years now. I still like rock music, but there’s nothing alternative or underground going on. They don’t oppose the system anymore, they are part of it.
Are you always this pessimistic?
I just try and look at the world with clarity. The youth of today has no idea that the freedoms they consider to be rights have been seized in a big battle that only just got won. We had to wait until 1967 before homosexuality became legal in the UK. And even then you had to be 21 years old. I grew up in the 1960s and 70s with rights that my parents never had. My kids are growing up in a world that I’d never imagined knowing. Access to medicine and free education were the two major advances after the war. These days they’re a mess. Only the rich can go to the best universities. And our society continues to be very patriarchal. There’s still a long way to go. The questions that I pose in this album are pretty simple, and talk about living together as much as within a couple as within society. If we love each other, if we want to live together, why can’t we communicate? If we continue sharing the same bed, why don’t we love each other anymore?
Chaosmosis by Primal Scream, (Pias/first international), available on March 18th.
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Interview by Thibaut Wychowanok