People Like Us is Vicki Bennett, a resident of Brighton on the South coast of England and creator of extraordinarily witty cut-up film and music projects which take the cultural critique of Plunderphonics into new dimensions of layered reference and dissociated signifiers. As with like minded spirits such as Manchester’s Stock, Hausen & Walkman, Californian pioneers Negativland and cod-orchestral Sythetizers The Tape-Beatles, People Like Us recordings use found sounds, old vinyl of dubious value in its original kitsch state, TV snippets and general audio detritus to nag at the edges of what constitutes sampling, copyright avoidance and sometimes music itself. Interviewed by Freq at the time of her stunning Brighton performance in February 2000, sections of the interview were later completed by email.
FREQ: What’s upcoming on the People Like Us front next?
PLU: A CD of campfire songs called A Fistful Of Knuckles on a Soleilmoon offshoot label Caciocavallo, which is a kind of cheese. The name came from a track called “Cheese” on my next album and they’re talking about caciocavallo; it’s a pear-shaped cheese. This will all make sense when you hear the track. Charles Powne from Soleilmoon was trying to think of a name for this new label and there it was! I said “Are you sure you want your label to be named after a cheese?” And he did, so there you go.
FREQ: It does seem appropriate somehow…
PLU:Yes, Charles is very tacky!
FREQ: There’s that 50 years of Soleilmoon release, the Johnny Pinkhouse Bad Acetate CD; that’s very good and tacky. Cheesy even.
PLU: That’s really great!
FREQ: How come the new CD isn’t being done through Soleilmoon this time?
PLU: Caciocavallo is distributed by Soleilmoon though. However, Caciocavallo won’t be distributed by Staalplaat in Europe, because it became necessary for me to find a European distributor who wasn’t Staalplaat. Gradually it became apparent that there were enough artists who were looking for distribution in Europe other than through Staalplaat to make it worthwhile setting up Caciocavallo. So basically this is a label with different distribution.
FREQ: Edward Ka-Spel‘s new album and Legendary Pink Dots‘ A Perfect Mystery are out on Cacciocavallo too…
PLU:Loads of people – there’s a long list of things coming out. It’s funny, with A Fistful Of Knuckles, the thing that finally made me think , “I’ll do an album”, is Charles played me something by Nigel Ayers from Nocturnal Emissions and Robin Storey from Rapoon; they’ve done a Country & Western album under the name Hank & Slim which is also out this Summer on Caciocavallo, and he played it to me on a CD-R as we were driving to the airport, and I had my CD-Rs in my bag, and I said “Oh, I’ve done “Oh Susannah”, listen” and then he really liked it, so I suggested doing a whole album – and then I thought ” Oh No!” and he contacted me the next week and said – “Shall we release it May 28th then?” and I hadn’t even started it or anything. I don’t really even know why I’m doing this CD, but it’s like a runaway train, once it got going I thought, why not…
FREQ: When is it actually out?
PLU:October. I’m touring around a lot at the moment, and although I’ve got all these tracks it’s going to take me a couple of months to piece it all together – it normally takes me two years to make an album, but I’m going to take a different approach to this one. Jumble Massive which I did for Soleilmoon, that took two months to make, where as my Hot Air album Thermos Explorer is a compilation of two and a half years of work. It’s put together in a different way – with no less care, but with a different way of working.
FREQ: How are you working on it?
PLU: It’s all just done in my sampler on floppy discs; I put my tracks together in different sections because there’s not enough space in the memory of my sampler – which enforces composition on my work.
FREQ: You take the limitations of the equipment and use them?
PLU: That’s always been the case, just because I’ve never really had any money behind me to run things, so it’s always been restricted. I bought the sampler in 1994, and didn’t buy anything else until last year when I bought the computer with some Arts Council money, to start making video collages for live performance. That I decided to do when I started playing live, because I started off DJing, but I didn’t like the way you were seen as some kind of slave to the audience, as unless it was a really interesting place, people just ignored the music. I didn’t like the lack of respect, so I decided I was going to move over to the live set idea, and thought I’ve got to have a visual focus, so that people will have no excuse but to pay attention.
FREQ: So then it’s not just music in the background with people talking over it?
PLU: Exactly. I knew that if I used the visual element more, I’d be able to play in cinema venues, which is my ultimate aim. And then you can call it Art! (laughs) And you can get the Arts Council money – if you call it music, you can get Arts Council money, but it’s a lot easier to do exactly the same thing, but call it art. They are catching up though – the Arts Council have got the Digital Arts funding now, but basically it’s a case of you either call it music and wait for them to catch up with their definitions, or you just do what you’re going to do and move your definitions around to their application forms. In my mind, what I’m doing isn’t one thing; it’s music, it’s art, it’s all-inclusive of several different things. The biggest umbrella is art, and music can be contained within that, or it can be something of a more commercial sort and less of a fringe.
FREQ: Because you release it on CD…
PLU:… then it’s music!
FREQ: Have you released any videos?
PLU: Not yet. I want to release a video album, maybe on DVD
FREQ: It would be really interesting to use the possibilities DVD allows.
PLU: Yeah, exactly, but not quite yet. Maybe in a couple of years, because I’ve only been developing my video work in a digital way since August 1999. I’ve been making scratch cut-up video for ten years, but it’s only now I’m getting to do what I want to do. I feel like I want to develop that more, so I think DVD will be a lot more interesting in two years time.
FREQ: It’ll be easier to get hold of the equipment for making your own DVDs then too
PLU: Yeah, you have to wait a bit for things to develop
FREQ: You get to see what the possibilities are, and the mistakes you make along the way too
PLU: Yes, Ruth & Joe from Semiconductor, are one step ahead of me with the Arts Council, as they’ve applied for DVD-related funding, to make art or music or whatever.
FREQ: There was the Stock, Hausen & Walkman CD-ROM wasn’t there?
PLU: They did the Venetian Deer CDROM, but I don’t think they actually made it, they did the music for it, I don’t know how much else they did, maybe they did have a part in the visual stuff, but I haven’t seen it so I don’t know…
FREQ: The video work you do, do you use your own original source material? And do you use the same technique as with the audio sampling, cutting and pasting and juxtaposing?
PLU: It’s the same technique as with sound; I use found film footage. Everything I’m using at the moment is from a 16mm archive of ex-school films, it’s all American educational footage from the Bay Area. It’s funny, because it all belongs to Peter Conheim who is the Jet Black Hair People who I did a CD with, it’s his film archive, and he works in a film projector group of three people called Wet Gate. A lot of his films actually came from his old school, Berkeley High, and they’d all been thrown out and he got them all. He was a bit of a rebel when he was at school, and he used to sit by the projector as it was running and he’d get his pen and stick it on the film – and he has some films now that have his pen lines running down them!
FREQ: Did you ever see the pieces Jurgen Reble and Thomas Köner were doing a few years back? That was very interesting, seeing the actual music coming off the spool of film itself. They were putting paint onto the film, even setting fire to it.
PLU: They did a thing in Brighton recently which I never saw, but I have seen a piece by Köner with film; it was sepia, a fairground piece; this was about 1994. Really nice film, I don’t know if it was found footage or what, it was treated, degraded, like they’d buried it under the ground for a while.
FREQ: How about the PLU Remix album …Hate People Like Us; the production of it took quite a long time didn’t it?
PLU: The project started in Summer 1997, and it didn’t get released until Summer 1999. The double CD version had 23 artists on it, and I chose all the artists as well, becuase when it was decided by the label that a remix CD would be good publicity , I said yes, but I wanted to co-ordinate it myself from the organisation point of view. I didn’t want them choosing a load of crappy artists who are on every remix CD, and I knew the ones who did get used for mine to varying extents.
FREQ: You certainly got some unique people involved, like Death In June.
PLU: Exactly. I thought it would be good to get some really different people, within reason; including some people who’d never remixed before, who have been in my background as the kind of music that I grew up with. I wanted to get some Industrial music people who I like now, and who have meant something through the last fifteen years, who are close to my heart, and felt that it was very flattering that they said yes. It was good, but it took far too long, so it was really really stressful to compile it, because it took me about a year to get the remixes back off everyone – trying to get an artist to do anything, especially when you have to get them to do a remix, then you have to get it off them, and it just takes a really long time. Then I had to do the artwork for it. That was like I had a vision for the artwork – it’s a cake with a dog shit on it. I got run over by a car a couple of years ago, and I broke lots of bones, so I had an operation to take some metal out around the time I was deciding on the artwork, and I knew I wanted it to be a studio thing rather than my usual National Geographic collage.
I woke up from this operation and I saw in my mind this pink satin cushion, surrounded by dry ice, with a dog shit on it. That was what I saw, and I thought, hmmmmm (laughs all round). But then I had to modify it, because I couldn’t have any dry ice, so I put it on a cake instead. This came because it’s a remix of my album Hate People Like You, which is just a stupid childish joke, so to call it Hate People Like Us was turning it round so that you’re attacking yourself. If it was a comment on anything, it was that you’re responsible for everything which happens to you, well not everything, but you can’t go round passing the buck all the time.
FREQ: The album works really well as a continuum with all the links that you placed between the different mixes. What do you think of remixes in general?
PLU: I put the links in because I didn’t want it to be like a normal remix album – there’s just so many I don’t really have an opinion about them in general – there’s good ones and there’s bad ones.
FREQ: Have you done any remixes yourself?
PLU: I did a Muslimgauze one, that’s was really awful. I didn’t know how to remix, so I was very self-conscious about what to do with the material so I ended up doing not much with it at all. If I did a remix now, I’d really mess with it.
FREQ: Any particular people you’d like to have a go at remixing?
PLU: Hmmmm… not really, since everything I sample I am to an extent remixing.
FREQ:You always seem to be playing around Europe and America, but not so often in the UK; would you like to play here more?
PLU: If they pay me! That’s the main reason why I don’t play here…
FREQ:What’s the response like to your shows in say, America, or Europe?
PLU: Americans have received my work better than anyone, followed by Germany. But I did a great gig in Brighton in February, which was really nice since it was the first proper performance I’d done there after living in the area for 13 years, and shortly I will be leaving the area…
FREQ: What’s next after the A Fistful Of Knuckles and Thermos Explorer?
PLU: I’m going back to developing a new body of video work. I’m done with music for a few months now.
Caciocavallo have re-released Lassie House and Jumble Massive on one CD, and the single-CD edition of …Hate People Like Us. Thermos Explorer is available from Hot Air and all good online and real-world record shops. For further information and developments, check the People Like Us website.