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SWEEP THE LEG JOHNNY
This interview with Sweep The Leg Johnny singer/saxophonist Steve Sostak was conducted in late 2001 and published in SALT issue two, which appeared in early 2002. It is no exaggeration to say that Sweep The Leg Johnny were a band that changed my life. In the wilderness years of the late 90s music press, an ecstatic review by Tommy Udo in the NME convinced me to buy Sweep’s then new album, “Tomorrow We Will Run Faster”. Its impact on me was extraordinary: the bruising, post-hardcore guitars, the plaintive saxophone figures, the dynamic four-square tempos, the elliptical lyrics all wove their spell upon me. All of these elements were best demonstrated on their masterpiece “Rest Stop”, a fifteen minute work of genius that remains one of my all-time favourites to this very day. I interviewed Steve in anticipation of their album “Sto Cazzo!”, which was released on the eve of a UK tour that turned out to be their last visit to this country. Their gig at the Adelphi in Leeds in early March 2002 was incredible. The band played with their back to a fireplace with a giant mirror, lit from below so everyone could see their reflections as they drew closer to them. They played with fervor and passion, and wrung every last drop of energy from us. Before the show they could not have been nicer to me as I presented them with copies of my zine. Some of my questions are naïve but they were replied to with considerable eloquence by Steve, for which I will always be grateful. It took me years to get hold of their final album “Going Down Swingin’”, but it proved to a wonderful epitaph for one of the finest bands I ever had the privilege of including in the pages of SALT.
First of all, is it true that you took your name from “The Karate Kid”?Steve Sostak: Is it that obvious?
How long have you been together as Sweep The Leg Johnny? Were you all in bands previously?
The core of the band has been together for five years, although John (M. Brady, bass) has been with us for two. John played in Spanakorzo and The Swing Kids, whereas the rest of us were in a bunch of lame rock bands growing up.
Coming from such a vibrant city for music as Chicago, which bands/sounds were most influential to you?
I don’t think any one of us would choose the Chicago scene as a direct influence. I believe Chicago can bring about the best in compositional ideas. There is quite a lineage of bands using different time signatures, dynamics and song structure but as far as having a specific band that we all draw influence from…there really isn’t one. We seem to allow ourselves room to do different things on each record and within each song. That is more emblematic of our diverse influences. Punk, goth, classic rock, noise, even hip-hop.
What I found most remarkable about “Tomorrow We Will Run Faster” was the contrast between the very eloquent and tender lyrics, mostly about love, set against an explosive musical barrage. How did you develop this volatile approach?
It seemed simply to derive from my limited ability as a vocalist and naïve sense of song-writing that such a style came about. I always have known that I have a weak speaking voice and found it difficult to go out of my way to write and sing in a particularly aggressive fashion…I have always enjoyed my writing, which tends to be mildly poetic as opposed to musically lyrical, so I think there was always a sense of apprehension. My goal became trying to fund placement, where the words and my voice could find room to be more natural. That ended up being within the storm of the music…within the “barrage”. It was comfortable.
Steve, how demanding is it for you to sing at full tilt and then play saxophone with the same intensity?
Each year it gets harder. My body isn’t too happy after 600 shows.
My favourite track is “Rest Stop” which sustains incredible tension over its fifteen minutes. Impressive enough for me as a fan, but what is it like to be inside that sound, creating it?To this day, I think this is the best story we have written. The first time we played the song perfectly, I was quite moved. A song like “Rest Stop” makes you feel good about being an artist and I think it was extremely pleasing for us all to be in tune with each-other in such a composition. You feel close and dramatic. Good to be alive.
I noticed you name-check the wrestling legend Ric Flair in the notes of “Tomorrow…”: are you big fans of ‘The Nature Boy’?If you want to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man, you got to walk that aisle.
Was the “Sto Cazzo!” album an attempt to capture the power of your live shows?
I think it was more of an attempt to have fun in the studio. It just tended to coincide with a number of songs that were more chaotic. I like the record because if you turn it up it will bowl you over like our live show. It can be powerful
What have been the highlights of your recent US tour?
Sharing the stage with the great Rumah Sakit. Huger turnout.
The song “Columbus Day” refers to the colonization of America and its history of murder and oppression; what motivated you to write it?
Catching up on American history. I never had a good history class in high school or college so I tried recently to read more. The song is a simple anecdote to a specific historical incident. Again, just something that was sad and I thought was worth mentioning to Sweep’s listeners.
Do you have a very committed fan base in the US? How do European fans compare?
Our fans are extremely committed everywhere. The base is small but they are so loyal. They seem to really identify with our live shows and we love to see so many familiar faces. Most of the kids are regular kids that love music and are not concerned with being cool. They fucking rule.
Finally, what is the future for Sweep The Leg Johnny?
We are breaking up pretty damn soon so you should come out quickly and see us to believe it.

sweep photo

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Algiers CD review

http://socialistreview.org.uk/403/algiers

My review of the film “Still the Enemy Within” is up now on The Quietus website: http://thequietus.com/articles/17049-miners-strike-enemy-within

Best Of 2014 list

Best of 2014

Books

Jon Lee Anderson: Che – A Revolutionary Life”, Paul Foot: “Articles of Resistance”, “The Vote”, “How to Vote Socialist”, Masha Gessen: Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot”, Agata Pyzik: “Poor But Sexy: Culture Clashes in Europe East and West”, David Peace: GB84”, Viv Albertine: Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys”, Ian Cobain: “Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture”, “If Spirit Alone Won Battles” by John Lowe, “Shafted – The Media, the Miners’ Strike and the Aftermath” (edited by Granville Williams), “Settling Scores: The Media, the Police and the Miners’ Strike” (edited by Granville Williams), “Nicholas Jones: “Strikes and the Media”, Marc Bennetts: “Kicking the Kremlin”, Stephen Dorrill and Robin Ramsay: “Smear! Wilson and the Secret State”, Dave Sherry: “John Maclean: Red Clydesider”, Gareth Peirce: “Dispatches from the Dark Side”, Harry Patterson: “Look Back in Anger: The Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire”, Rob Evans and Paul Lewis: “Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police”, Arthur Wakefield: “The Miners’ Strike Day by Day: The Illustrated Diary of Yorkshire Miner Arthur Wakefield”, Nick Grant and Brian Richardson: “Blair Peach: Socialist and Activist”, Jonathan Meades: “An Encyclopedia of Myself”, Eamon McCann: “War and An Irish Town”, John Molyneux: Will the Revolution be Televised? A Marxist Analysis of the Media”, Arthur Scargill and Peter Heathfield: “A Century of Struggle”, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom: “Big Media and Internet Titans” (ed. Granville Williams), Julian Cope: “One Three One”, Dave Sherry: Empire and Rebellion: a Socialist History of the First World War”, Richard Brautigan: “Willard and His Bowling Trophies”, “In Watermelon Sugar”.

Events

Tidal Wrestling: Wipe Out, The Cockpit Leeds, 9th February

Tidal Wrestling: Release the Kraken, The Cockpit Leeds, 13th April

Jonathan Meades reading from “An Encyclopedia of Myself” at Bowland Auditorum, Berwick Saul Building, York University, 9th May

“Marxism 2014” (10- 14th July)

Exhibitions

Malevich at Tate Modern, Virginia Woolf at the National Portrait Gallery, Anselm Kiefer at the Royal Academy,

Films (cinema)

“Blue is the Warmest Colour”, “Under the Skin”, “The Double”, “Exhibition”, “Frank”, “Jimmy’s Hall”, “Tracks”, “Boyhood”, “Camille Claudel 1915”, “Pride”, “Still The Enemy Within”, “Concerning Violence”

Films (DVD)

Maurice Pialat –  “Naked Childhood”, “We Won’t Grow Old Together”, “The Mouth Agape”, “Graduate First”, “A Nos Amours”, “Police”, “Under the Sun of Satan”, “Van Gogh”. Miklos Jancso – “The Way Home”, “The Red and the White”, “The Round-Up”, “The Confrontation”, “Red Psalm”. Andrzej Wajda – “Innocent Sorcerers”, “Man of Marble”, “Man of Iron”, “Walesa: Man of Hope”. Sam Fuller: “White Dog”, Donald Cammell: “White of the Eye”. Jake West – “Video Nasties 2: Draconian Days”, the Brothers Quay: “Institute Benjamenta”, “Combat Shock”/”American Nightmares”, the Dardennes Brothers: “Two Days, One Night”, “The Miners’ Campaign Tapes”, Theo Angelopoulous: “Ulysses’ Gaze”, Andrei Tarkovsky: “Nostalghia”

Gigs

Magik Markers at City Screen Basement, York, 29th June

Black Bananas, Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 10th November

Music

Black Bananas: “Electric Brick Wall”, Aleister X: “Keepin’ It Real”, St Vincent: “St Vincent”, Laibach: “Spectre”, Electric Wizard: “Time to Die”, Helms Alee: “Sleepwalking Sailors”, Floor: “Oblation”, Mastodon: “Once More ‘Round the Sun”, SUNNO))) & Ulver: “Terrestrials”, EMA: “The Future’s Void”, Scott Walker and SUNNO))): “Soused”, Pharmakon: “Bestial Burden”, Trans Am: “Volume X”, V/A: “Punk 45 Volume 2 – Underground Punk and Post Punk in the UK 1977 – 81”, Punk 45 Volume 3 – Proto Punk 1969 – 76”, Archie Bronson Outfit: “Wild Crush”, Luke Haines: New York in the 70s”, V/A: “After Dark 2”, Earth: “Primitive and Deadly”, Blonde Redhead: “Barragan”

Television

“The Bletchley Circle”, “My Mad Fat Diary”, “New Girl”, “Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloody-Mindedness: Concrete Poetry with Jonathon Meades”, “Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle”, “True Detective”, “Endeavour”, “The French Revolution: Tearing Up History”, “Edge of Darkness”, “The Changes”, Matthew Collings on Abstract Art, “Heimat”.

Highlights

Meeting three of my favourite people – Jonathan Meades, Jennifer Herrema and wrestler Grado – all in one year. Hearing John Pilger, Gareth Peirce and Darcus Howe pay tribute to the great journalist Paul Foot at “Marxism”. Helping the Doncaster Care UK strikers in my small way throughout the year. Attending the book launch for “Settling Scores” in Leeds and meeting Granville Williams and Nicholas Jones. Attending the Orgreave Picnic and Fair at Catcliffe Recreation Grounds in June – one of the most emotional and eye-opening days of my life. Meeting Anne Scargill, Betty Cook and Dave Douglass at the same event. Seeing my review of “Settling Scores” on the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom website.

Lowlights

“Powerslam” Magazine ceases publication after 23 years. The sad and untimely deaths of Tony Benn, Bob Crow and Gerry Conlon. The ongoing venom and stupidity of the “Coalition” government. The cowardly inaction and rightward momentum of Labour. The disgusting racism, homophobia, sexism and xenophobia of UKIP. Fascists across Europe. The deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of police. MH17.

Belligerent and ferocious, the limited edition cassette released by the Swedish/Australian noise trio Batalj was one of the best releases of 2013. Just sixty copies of this beautiful monstrosity exist, but they lie in wait ready to explode through any pair of ears that may hear its glorious, viscous sounds. I interviewed drummer David Hantelius at a precarious time for the band, as their future seems uncertain: all the more reason to devote space to them within these pages. With singer V now displaying her talents in Meddicine (see below), this may be the last word on one of the best bands this magazine has ever come across. Below the interview we also profile Sixsixsixties Records, run by the estimable label boss Monika Krol. It is home to many of the most exciting and interesting underground bands currently at work. Her work is as tireless and varied as the label’s aesthetic, with a particular flair for tantalizing, limited edition cassette releases. Long may her sterling work continue!

Monika from SixSixSixties contacted us a while ago saying she wanted to release something. We’ve been in contact before when our friends Jailhouse Fuck and BATALJ was supposed to be on a compilation together (which unfortunately didn’t happen). But we are very happy we could release our latest recording now. It turned out really good for a zero-budget trash recording in the rehearsal room with a 4-track tape recorder.       You recently made a tour of the UK and Europe – what were the highlights of the tour for you? Well it certainly wasn’t the congestion zone in London, nor the parking tickets! Nah, but apart from the usual tour goodness my best memories are hooking up with our babes in Divorce, swimming in lakes, red wine in Paris, underground London parties and of course the BEAUTIFUL town Leicester.

       How did you decide upon your current guitars/synth/drums/noise set up? When Albin left the band I started doing pedal-noise while drumming, and that has evolved into a fourth instrument in the dynamics we create. When V joined, we kind of felt that synthesizer (instead of bass) would be a fresh and exciting new-start! We’ve since been working really hard to create good dynamics between the instruments since they all have variations of synth-y sounds.         With releases that include vinyl and tape format alongside MP3, what do you think are the advantages of releasing music on digital and physical formats? We’re actually surprised by how many people have been buying our digital release on Bandcamp. I’d prefer if everyone would get the 7″ instead. But then again, not everyone has a record player. Both are as important in my opinion, I wouldn’t be satisfied with just one of the two. However I think a vinyl will always live longer and it kind of makes history in its own way. Internet reaches a bigger crowd but get over-swarmed by the 10 billion other things you want to do online.        What is Berlin like as a base for you? Is it a creative environment for the band? I always tell everyone that Berlin is the perfect platform for music. It’s cheap to live, culturally stimulating and has the perfect geographical starting point for touring. However it’s very lazy and you really have to struggle to get everyone out of their sluggish misery before anything happens!       The videos that accompany your music are as eye-popping as the music itself – cases in point being “Aborted Triplets” and the amazing “Doppelganger”. How crucial are these visuals to you as band? I’ve always felt that our recorded stuff is a bit unjust, and in my opinion our recorded tracks and live performances can’t be compared. But when a track is presented with a video it becomes something new. So yeah, visuals are definitely an important factor, today more than ever I’d say. We’ve also started doing projections when playing live, that’s the work of Alexandra Macdonnell (she also did the video for Aborted Triplets), check it out here – alexandramacdonnell.com    What does the future hold for BATALJ? Uhm, seriously the worst timing ever for that question! We’ve been through a lot this year. We did somewhat of a come-back after a 6 month absence in February this year with a release party for our 7″ EP. The show ended with me falling off stage and severely injuring my hand on broken beer bottles. After hospitals, operations and three weeks of mental and physical agony we embarked on a three week tour with me drumming with one hand. After about four shows in the tour we got a phone call saying that our former member and very close friend Albin had passed away in a snowboarding accident. Despite moral dilemmas, broken hands and spirits we decided to continue the tour till the end – and we definitely did the right decision! That tour ended with us going to Sweden, one day after the last official show of the tour, to attend Albin’s funeral. We also managed to arrange a memorial show for him together with Tjänstevapen and Tyred Eyes. The UK tour two months later was already planned since months before any of this happened, otherwise I don’t think we’d have made it. To brighten our spirits we got a luxurious van and invited a lot of our friends to come with us on the tour, which was amazing, especially since we’ve done almost every tour in a cramped up station wagon! But even under almost ideal circumstances it was still very tough for all of us and we’ve definitely realized that we need to slow down on touring for a while. We have plans though! At the moment we are planning two solidarity shows this year to raise money for ambulance bills and the damage on the luxurious van we managed to scratch up. We’ve been writing a lot of new material and will continue to do that and hopefully release our first full-length early next year.Image

Here is a link to my piece about Extreme Championship Wrestling DVDs for my friend Justin Davisson’s excellent wrestling blog:

http://squaredcirclepit.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/extreme-championship-wrestling-visual.html

http://squaredcirclepit.blogspot.co.uk/

Here is a link to the review of “Veterans of Disorder” reissue by Royal Trux, also for The Quietus:

http://thequietus.com/articles/14174-royal-trux-veterans-of-disorder