Natasha Scharf Interview Feb 2011

– From your perspective, what was UK goth music like in the late ’90s-early ’00s?

In April 2000, Chaos Engine played the Whitby Goth Weekend alongside VNV Nation, Mesh and Sigue Sigue Sputnik. There was an interesting mix of dark electronic and more traditional goth music. There were also, as I recall, a lot of complaints from goths that the music was not goth. In my opinion this was the beginning of the end. InFest started in 1998, but really hit its stride in 2001, effectively splitting the UK scene into two and separating the electronic & EBM bands from the more traditional goth fare. For a scene that seems to spend so much time pontificating about how alternative it is, I think it’s ironic that such a narrow-minded outlook towards what constituted goth music resulted in many of the more interesting acts being absorbed by what was ostensibly a rival event. You don’t see that in Europe so much, and I think the scene is more vibrant as a direct result.

– Why did you start signing other bands to Wasp Factory and what was your criteria?

I started Wasp Factory because Chaos Engine had gigged with a lot of amazing, hard-working, talented bands and I wanted to share the infrastructure we’d built & create a sort of gang mentality. Our criteria for signing bands was that they had to be able to write a song that we could remember, and be presenting that in an interesting way, usually by the use of technology. They also had to not be dicks.

Mark Eris and I would go see a band play live twice, and we would take turns being the drunk one. If we loved the band both drunk and sober, we’d talk contracts. Most bands couldn’t even make the effort to play twice, so that helped us weed out those with less stamina at the point of entry. The bands I enjoyed working with the most were probably the least goth, now I think about it…

– Did you feel that the mainstream media associated goth music with something that wasn’t very contemporary? And how did you hope Wasp Factory would change that concept?

The mainstream media are always looking for the Next Big Thing – their narrative is about moving forwards, not backwards. Goths, to the media, are a curio in the same way as you might see punks on postcards in London. Wasp Factory more or less existed in a bubble for the first 4 or 5 years of operation, we certainly had no delusions about trying to change media’s opinions towards goth music.

– What was the reality of the situation?

The goth scene allowed us to put or bands in front of relatively big crowds of mostly middle-class IT professionals with lots of disposable income, which was good for business at grass-roots level. But as far as our profile with the UK press went, we often found it hard to be taken seriously because of our affiliation with the goth scene. Again, abroad we found that publications were appreciably more open-minded.

– How do you seen the current UK goth scene and do you feel it could ever reach the dizzy mainstream heights that it did in the ’80s?

Honestly, my feeling here is that what matters at the end of the day are great songs. If by ‘dizzy mainstream heights’ we’re talking about The Cure, Siouxsie, The Cult, etc, I think the reason those bands broke through is because they wrote amazing pop songs. The vast majority of what I’ve seen or heard in the current goth scene lacks anything like the quality of songwriting needed to be memorable. Wasp Factory always used to get canned for not having high enough production values, but what we were looking for was originality and *songs*. Nowardays, anyone with a computer can, given enough time, come up with a polished-sounding track, but there are no plug-ins to give you the killer hook or fists-in-the-air chorus, and *that’s* what I look for in music nowardays. Which is why you’ll rarely see me at a goth gig, but often see me at gigs by the Prodigy, 65daysofstatic, UNKLE, This is Radio Silence, Young Gods, Hadouken! and Chase & Status – none of whom I’d consider to be goth bands but all of whom have that darkness, originality, and ear for a tune that I look for in my music.

– Is there anything else you could add about the signing process? I sort of vaguely remember something being said at the time about Wasp Factory trying to raise the musical bar in the “scene”…

I think there are 2 forms of music fans – those that look forward and those that look backwards. With Wasp Factory, we weren’t looking for the next Cure or the next Nine Inch Nails, we were looking for something new with each signing and I think sometimes that put us a little too far ahead for people to easily undertand. I genuinely think that, for example, the lyrical breakbeat / Drum & Bass stylings of Tarantella Serpentine are the kind of thing that kids are only just gettig into some 12 years later.

The other thing that differentiated Wasp Factory from some other labels was that we were a co-operative at the beginning, putting on lots of joint gigs, releasing compilation albums, remixing & producing each other’s work and working as a big gang fo the greater good… at least to start with. In hindsight, the more we acted like a conventional record label rather than some crazy DIY collective, the less fun things became. We lost a lot of money pretending to be a proper record label and had much more fun when we were doing smaller creative publicity stunts. Having said that, I don’t regret anything Wasp Factoy did – it’s been a valuable learning experience and many of the people I worked with are still very close friends who have gone on to create even more exciting projects.