Throughout 2021 we were blessed to discover so many wonderful musicians, promoters, music-lovers and communities online. Of these, ATTN:Magazine’s site holds a special place in my heart. It’s a go-to place to find something truly unique, atmospheric, whacky and genre-crossing to listen to. A welcoming and minimally-styled home for reviews and crucial listening stories, always full of surprise. It is hard to imagine that all this is the work of one individual, Jack Chuter. Furthermore, he has published books about post-rock, runs a record label called Hard Return, and as a musician extends his services to include audio mastering.
A multifaceted man of many talents. We reached out to ask if Jack might have time to chat with us, and to our great surprise he was up for it!
Jack, firstly I want to thank you for undertaking this interview and collaborative writing project with us! Let’s start perhaps with the recent times? How has 2021 been for you, and experimental music in general within the UK?
Thanks for having me! I’m grateful that 2021 has been fine for me personally. I’ve worked from home (as a software analyst) for the whole year and spent lots of time with my partner and son. He’s two years old now and brings such a silly energy to my life – I’ve been really glad for that during some of the more uncertain passages of this year.
I’m also glad that I managed to experience some live events in Autumn. My friend Alastair Fyffe (Turlin, Viimeinen) and I organised a noise show here in Bournemouth back in November at the wonderful OTTO Print x Coffee House. Prior to that I hadn’t heard music through a PA since Moor Mother at London’s Cafe Oto in February 2020, so that really was an ecstatic experience. I caught Yuko Araki at Oto about a month back and her set was unbelievable. I’ve also enjoyed listening to music over headphones in a dark room at night (the new Lingua Ignota in particular). That’s become a favourite habit this year.
As for experimental music in the UK – that’s a good question, and I’m definitely not best-placed to answer it. What I can say is that we’re currently in the midst of another COVID wave, with lots of live events being cancelled: either because of performers/crew getting ill or as a safety precaution. Our venues, artists and promoters are being continually neglected by a government that doesn’t care a jot about culture. Emergency relief is desperately needed to help these venues / people pull through yet another period of extreme precarity, but as always – they’re refusing to take any action that might undermine their long-term goal of letting independent culture die (which has been an objective even prior to the pandemic). Collectives, artists and spaces are doing what they can to keep things ticking, but they need state support. DIY is a necessity but it shouldn’t have to be this way.
The story over here in Australia, sadly, is a similar one. I can’t see what is happening in our larger cities first-hand, but cities like Melbourne have been in lockdowns for over 260 days. The impact on venues and artists who rely on performances for income has been horrible, and many have been hurt very badly. It extends to artists in general, and so many people who rely on the sales or display of creative work to earn a living. Let’s hope that 2022 is a better year! Hard to be too optimistic though, as you rightly mentioned that government decision making (or lack of) has so much to answer for.
Sorry to hear Australian artists have suffered too. One source of frustration is that imminent lockdowns often spark discussion over here about the impact to “hospitality and leisure” – no mention of the arts. Undervalued as always, by both governments and the press.
What has been keeping you busy, and please share what your active projects are at the moment, for our readers. I might as well ask this now too… how do you manage your time with all this on your plate?
I run ATTN:Magazine, which is a site for exploratory music and sound art. The Crucial Listening podcast has become the main component of that, which is where I invite musicians and artists to talk about three albums that are important to them. This year I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Olivia Block, The Bug, BACKXWASH, Senyawa, Cecilia Lopez, Chris Corsano + Bill Orcutt… loads more. I can’t tell you how much I love doing that podcast!
I also have a label called Hard Return, which is for extremely repetitive/persistent music – that started late 2020 and I’ve worked with some incredible artists through that. I also make music as Chuter and Upward, and just recently started audio mastering.
As for how I manage my time – I work part-time, so that’s a huge aspect of it. Most of the above is wedged into the margins between work and family (naps and evenings). ATTN is certainly a slower operation than it was back in 2018, which is totally fine… I do all of these projects for my own enjoyment, so I try to stay mindful of when I might be over-stretching to the detriment of that. These are all just means of engaging with the music and artists I love so much.
I’ve fired up Bandcamp to listen to some Chuter whilst pondering on which of many things to ask you about next. Let’s talk music, and your experiences working as a solo artist! Your back catalogue is very extensive and you’ve been releasing music for a good long time. I’m giving “Eternal Forgetting”, “Slip Away” and “Pendulum Swing” some extended ear-time at the moment. Your music is wonderfully produced, thick in sound, and seems to seamlessly weld together low-frequency darkness and weight, with a gentle dreamy overtone. It is incredible to think that all this is done by one man (with some amazing collaborators). As a lover of shoegaze, dreampop and the darker side of post-rock, you’ve given me enough music to explore here for quite some time! As a fellow solo artist, I can also appreciate the immense work and hours that have gone into crafting all this delicious audio.
Is it correct that your first release as Chuter was back in 2007? The archives of ATTN:Magazine seem to extend back to 2009, so I’m curious about what drew you into both recording and promoting independent and experimental music, roughly around the same time. Was there a moment that everything just “fell together”, or had you been envisioning and planning your path forwards, for quite some time?
Since I was about 11 I’ve been excited by music that confuses or repels me on first pass (ever since I heard Radiohead’s Amensiac I reckon). I’ve subsequently sought out as many routes as possible to express that love: listening to it, making it, writing about it, then more recently with organising events, starting the label etc. So if there’s a grand objective – subconsciously at least – it’s that. I just love the arc that occurs when encountering these sorts of sounds: from the impulse to resist, to reflecting on the sound and dissecting the initial reaction, to that moment where it all clicks. I remember reading a review of Sunn O)))’s White2 in Rock Sound when I was 14, and thinking it sounded like a groove metal record based on the description. I tried it out at a music store listening station and spent about two minutes waiting for the drums (which never arrive), then bailed on it and walked out frustrated. About two months later – having thought about the record obsessively – I walked back into the same store and bought it. I just love experiences like that.
One major factor was the Meshuggah Forum, where I spent a ton of time between about 2004 and 2010. That’s where I first discovered post-metal/drone bands like Isis, Pelican, Jesu and Sunn O))), as well as noise stuff like Merzbow, ambient stuff like Steve Roach, Tim Hecker etc. I’ve fond memories of swapping mp3s on MSN Messenger with various forum folks during that time. The breadth of my music taste erupted because of that.
In 2005 I got a 7-string guitar for Xmas (inspired by Meshuggah and post-metal bands that used downtuning, like Isis/Pelican/Jesu) and started making solo post-metal music as Excido. Forumers were always swapping tips for home recording, drum programming and the like, which led me to buy a Line 6 Toneport and an introductory version of Cubase. I’d share my music on the forum (other artists like Misha “Bulb” Mansoor from Periphery and Acle from Tesseract were also sharing their works in progress on the forum back then!) and the feedback was really encouraging. In 2007 I switched to making music as Chuter as I started to get more into the “oversaturated shoegaze” thing. I’m still using that same 7-string guitar from 2005 by the way.
On the writing side, I’d always loved magazines – starting with N64 magazine when I used to game more as a kid, then moving through the likes of Rock Sound, Kerrang, Metal Hammer, Terrorizer and Zero Tolerance as I sought out more extreme forms of sound, before landing on The Wire in 2008/2009. I’d written a handful of computer game reviews for the local paper since I was about 14, then started writing music reviews on sites like Sonic Frontiers and The Silent Ballet, before eventually writing reviews and features for the magazines I’d grown up reading, like Rock-A-Rolla and Zero Tolerance.
ATTN actually started out as a student magazine while I was studying journalism at Bournemouth University. My friends and I set it up, and initially it had a ton of other sections including politics, arts and literature and fashion. I was the music editor, which offered some of my first exposures to interviewing, dealing with music PR companies and reviewing live shows. Eventually the other contributors moved on and I took over the site, at which point it became a site for experimental music and sound art exclusively.
It was around that era that I purchased a 7 string as well! Still use it to this day, though have recently gone back to a Telecaster 6 for a lot of work, which is a strangely liberating experience when you have short fingers haha. Funny how different instruments have such varying personalities too! Would love to hear some of the Excido work if there is any available.
Oh that’s interesting! What was your inspiration for picking up a 7-string? And here’s an Excido album – I should caveat that I was 16 years old when I made this: https://archive.org/details/Efflixi_Ipsemet
Thank you for sharing all that background on your endeavors! The sense of community and sharing that can be found online, when you come across like-minded people is a really wondrous thing. It takes some searching to uncover them, but there are so many really talented artists and generous people out there. It is so great too, that you were happy to assume ownership of the magazine and take it into new places.
The 7 string I brought home one fine day, kind of came about through playing in a 3-piece. We already had a great guitarist and bassist, but wanted to weave some of my own mid-frequency rumbles and fat sounds in between.
As a writer of music and a writer of words, do you think that creatively-speaking they are similar processes? Or is your approach to crafting music very different to the way you approach writing? This is an unusual question perhaps, but I’ve always enjoyed writing (usually fiction), and have often wondered if the “high” that creating textural stories brings, is similar to that when making music and sensing that something you’ve laid down, feels “just right”.
I’ve never written fiction, but I also wonder whether that process feels akin to making music (I’d imagine so, given that it’s all about getting immersed in the process of creation and world-building). When it comes to review and feature-writing, it’s a totally different experience to making music.
Composing solo music is such an insular activity and I always feel like I’m shutting off the world outside when I’m making it. Time passes very quickly, I end up staying up late, and I find myself obsessively thinking about the compositions until they’re finished. I love making music when I’m “inside” that process; ultimately that neglect of the world outside is occurring because I’m so absorbed by the music, and that collapse of myself into the process instigates all sorts of peak experiences (just like being totally engrossed in a live show, or meditating for a long period of time). But that headspace just isn’t compatible with the rest of my life. Particularly since becoming a father, which requires me to be completely present for both my son and the world around him, I’ve found that composing music leaves me feeling hungover afterwards: sluggish, distracted, anxious. That’s why I work on music much more intermittently these days – it’s still such an important aspect of my life, but I just don’t want to be in that headspace for too long.
Writing feels different, and I reckon it’s because I’m engaging with something external (i.e. the release I’m reviewing). While it requires me to zone into a listening experience and reach inward for the words to articulate it, there’s an underlying social basis to it – I’m in dialogue with the music I’m writing about, which pulls me out of myself rather than dragging me inward. Whereas making music leaves me feeling rather low and wiped out, writing about music fills me with energy. Nowadays I feel more comfortable when I’m amplifying or collaborating with someone else’s work, rather than making my own. I’m not trying to sound saintly when I say that – it just literally leaves me feeling better.
I meant to ask this earlier too, but will add it now. What paths lead you to becoming a software analyst? I imagine it as being a highly technical, stressful, yet rewarding area of expertise?
I arrived there by accident. As I mentioned above, I did journalism at university and the original plan was to pursue writing. I got a temporary job at this software company to keep things ticking, and before I knew it I’d got a permanent role and I’m still there now.
It’s a hard contrast to my music-associated projects, in that it’s all about problem-solving and hard binaries. Either something is fixed or it’s not. I feel lucky to be able to shift between my logic-driven job and the more fluid, multi-directional possibilities of music and writing. I’ve been working in the same role for 10 years now and it keeps me in balance! Being in the finance sector, the terrain is constantly changing as technology evolves – essentially my team exists in that margin between the existing, technically-robust old software, and the error-prone nature of nascent functionality. It’s a buzz!
It sure is refreshing to hear such nice words about a creator’s day job! Having something that contrasts greatly to your personal projects and interests, must certainly help to keep you feeling fulfilled and stimulated.
What are your musical plans for 2022 and beyond? Are there any particular projects in the back of your mind, or already in the works, that might come to fruition? Some more Chuter recordings? Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to in the year ahead?
For one, ATTN will keep rolling on! I’ve already got a couple of Crucial Listening podcasts recorded that will be coming out in January, and want to try and review more records in 2022 than I did in 2021.
There’s a new Upward split release with the incredible Charlie Butler coming out in the first part of the year. Last week I finished a new Chuter EP called In Orbit, which is out now. For some reason there are barely any guitars on that one, and I made a conscious decision to throttle back on the reverb a fair bit (which involved recording the tracks, then draining away some of the reverb incrementally over several editing sessions). I’ve spent my music-making life leaning into excessive reverb so to push back on that was a challenge. I’m so happy with how those four tracks panned out.
There are four Hard Return releases totally finished and ready to drop, starting with a new one by African Ghost Valley on January 13th, and subsequent releases by Isnaj Dui, Kritzkom and A Companion Of Owls. I’ve been really inspired by the stuff coming out on Hard Return, and in fact my Upward release What You Deserve (guitar, bass, snare drum and trumpet played repetitiously over two 10-minute pieces) resulted from soaking up the influence of everything the label is putting out. I want to make another ultra-repetitive Upward record, and one idea I’m kicking around in my head is a piece inspired by those looped atmospheric soundscapes that are played in the queues for theme park rides. I have a ton of memories of queuing for rides like Colossus at Thorpe Park for two hours and hearing the same motifs/sound effects cycling round a dozen times. Naturally they’ve got a very anticipatory energy to them, given that they’re sonically pointing toward the cathartic release of the roller-coaster itself, and I’d love to harness that vibe of accumulating expectation and pre-ride trepidation.
Outside of music-related activities, one of my main goals for the year ahead is to remain as vigilant as possible to the atrocities being enacted by our government at the moment: the intentional negligence of the most vulnerable, hostility to anyone on the margins or living in precarity, normalising disgusting narratives around seeking refuge and immigration, and the increasingly authoritarian nature of the whole capitalist project that wants to remove the fundamental right to protest. Mainstream media is forever failing to convey the magnitude of what’s happening in the UK at the moment, so it’s important to find means to connect with what’s actually happening and identify ways of supporting the fightback.
Jack, it is fantastic news to hear that you have a new EP coming out very soon, and lots of great work gearing up for release through your Hard Return label. Sounds like 2022 is going to be a really strong and creative year for you! Musical ideas can come from the strangest of places, that is for sure. You are obviously a very observant character who likes to challenge himself. Your recent decision to dial-back reverb strikes a chord. Sometimes, I’ve found that adding specific effects… which for myself would be delay and reverb on piano, can almost become instinctual and a knee-jerk to previous recordings where such settings “felt right”. You’ve inspired me to reconsider the use of dryer sounds from time to time!
One thing that has been noticeable over the last few years in Australia, or at least to me personally, is the highly selective and manipulative use of the media down here. My spouse, being Japanese, always talks about all kinds of news articles and journalism about world events, that never seems to surface here. Perhaps the assumption is that Australians are by and large, “dumb”, and will happily eat whatever they are fed. Musically speaking, I feel there are less musicians out there these days, trying to challenge “the establishment”. This was a feature of industrial music, and the metal to preceded it that caught my attention during the 90s. Perhaps I am old and falling out of touch, but finding subversive and rebellious music seems to be much more difficult than it used to be. Almost as though the underground has been forced even moreso into darkness.
Mate, I really hope that 2022 is great for you and your friends and colleagues in the UK! Are there any final thoughts or words that you’d like to share with our readers?
Thanks pal, same to you! Really appreciate the energy you’ve put into this interview. I’ve enjoyed this. I’d love to direct readers to the wonderful music currently being made and released by the likes of Outsider Art, Turlin, Fleshlicker, PLAYNEUTRAL, peradam tapes., Chinabot, Workin’ Man Noise Unit, Active Listeners Club and sm-ll.com. Some of those are good friends, all of them are inspirations.
Hard Return: https://hardreturn.bandcamp.com/