An interview with khostKhost create an an unnerving and physically imposing sound. They first came to my attention with the album Copper Lock Hell released on Cold Spring. It was a forceful release of mammoth and colossal doom chords, deep bass tones and cavernous textures woven with a distinctive use of ethnic samples, ethereal voices and location recordings of the city scape and its vacant spaces and abandoned buildings. Tracks such as '14 Daggers' and 'Revelations Vultures Jackals Wolves' from the following Corrosive Shroud album easily show the inventive nature and uniqueness of the khost sound with their use of ethereal and indigenous samples and strings. Elsewhere elements of industrial noise and free-jazz nestle beside experimental electronics, massive sound shudders and rhythmic clatter. Both albums, as well as their latest album Governance, are unrelenting in their brutal and unflinching power.
Our love and appreciation of khost is perhaps not too surprising. Both members of khost, Andy Swan and Damian Bennett, have a rich musical pedigree stretching from early industrial through to the varied strains of electronic music - influences that continue to seep into khost. They're associated with the city of Birmingham (even though I believe Damian resides in Manchester) and they fit nicely into a musical lineage of a city that has given us Napalm Death, Scorn and Godflesh. Andy and Damian have worked with Godflesh's Justin Broadrick in projects such as Final and Techno Animal. khost's latest album Governance was preceded by Needles Into The Ground an EP where Justin Broadrick deconstructed (and reconstructed) khost to thrilling effect.
Although a duo, khost have also worked and continue to work with artists as diverse as Tunnels of ĀH, Oxbow's Eugene S Robinson, cellist Jo Quail, and the late Daniel Buess, drummer, percussionist and sound artist who supplied rhythms to khost. Recently khost have provided music for a Japanese Manga comic book and featured on the soundtrack to the Doxey Boggart, John E. Smoke's independent documentary on the folklore of the Staffordshire marshes.
The brutality and uneasy claustrophobia continues on their latest album Governance. It is an album that propels their sound into further areas with sojourns into atmospheric ambient sounds and 'Defraction' which unfurls like a devastating horror score saturated in doom metal sonics. It like its predecessors, Copper Lock Hell and Corrosive Shroud is intense, inventive and thoroughly enthralling. Dig in and dig deep into their layers of experimental industrial doom; it is wonderful and powerful stuff. We rate them highly.
After writing glowing reviews of their albums, we finally caught up with Andy Swan (AS) and Damian Bennett (DB) of khost to find out what drives and fuels their continually evolving and devolving noise and atmospheric textured industrial doom sound and to find out more about the evolution of khost.
Governance has been receiving rave reviews, you must be really pleased with the response to the album, are you?
DB: Saw your review, that was really great, thanks.
AS: Yes, it's always good when reviewers 'get' what we're doing - thanks very much for the very kind review. I think sometimes people expect us to sound like a regular rock band as such and when we don't fit nicely into a category it throws them off-kilter a bit. Which is quite satisfying for us.
Let's backtrack a bit how did khost come about? What are the origins of khost and what brought the two of you together?
AS: For me, the origin of khost goes back to the early days of power electronics and similar genres. I really wanted to create something that touched on those sort of harsher sounds but felt like two granite slabs hanging over your ears. Instead of using pure electronics though I wanted to do it with guitars. The first two khost tracks were deliberately and intentionally a mix of ultra harsh electronics and samples mixed with those granite slab guitar sounds.
Before you signed to Cold Spring some tracks first appeared on Bandcamp. How did you strike up a relationship with Cold Spring?
AS: A mutual friend sent links of the two Bandcamp tracks to Cold Spring who expressed an interest in putting together a release of some description. I met Justin (Mitchell), the Cold Spring owner, at an electronic music festival in Birmingham not long after that and an album deal was agreed. It's quite strange that a number of Cold Spring artists are based in the Midlands - Tunnels, IFOTS, Colossloth and khost.
Your both active in separate projects, could you tell us about these? Is khost your main concern and are your own projects on the backburner now?
DB: I'm always writing material as it's an ongoing process and will necessarily spill over into/contaminate khost work too.
AS: I also play in Iroha which is a more melodic heavy shoegaze type band. At the moment Iroha is on a bit of a hiatus though as khost takes up the majority of my recording time.
The khost sound is massively physical and imposing with its doom chords, deep bass tones and cavernous textures. Each album seems to bring a distinct feel within the sound. What are you trying to achieve within the sound?
DB: For me it's working within a sound/landscape that others don't venture into or rarely do; it's like getting the wirecutters out and getting into the compound every time when there is a writing session, like a night run, with one eye on the clock and the exit.
AS: For me it's an attempt to make the listener feel totally uneasy - the feeling when you open a loft hatch that has no lighting, half expecting something to happen when you look over the rim.
khost recordings are infused with other textures, and I'm thinking here specifically of the Japanese voices and Middle-Eastern influences? It's a unique sound but what lead you to weave these disparate elements into the khost sound?
DB: Similarly as the above notion: it's going into other territories, and wondering what is up certain roads and paths not travelled that much... sometimes I think this is what the afterlife is: a venture up a dusty sidestreet in some country and talking to people you don't know. There's certain approaches to the sampling: sometimes it's to make it all-enveloping and detailed, others to make it sound like nothing more than a cheap, shit, degraded, disposable digital file.
AS: Yes, I think living in Birmingham again is a big influence. It's totally multi-cultural and different sounds and textures drift in and out all the time. I really like that clash of heavy, heavy guitars with beautiful vocals and instruments over the top. Again it gives that feeling of unease as it's not a common mixture. Any structure that has that clash of beauty and ugliness is always of interest.
I'm sure I read that the lyrics on your debut Copper Lock Hell were taken from Lautreamont's Maldoror? Is that true?
AS: Yes, it's one of those books that was popular in my circle of friends back in the early eighties and it's subconsciously stayed with me. I've read it a few times now and it ebbs and flows like it's casting a spell over the reader. I was particularly keen to apply the Burroughs/Gysin cut up method to the lyrics so certain passages from the book were taken, cut up and rearranged. They were then used quite randomly across the album almost like automatic writing.
That's a favourite within industrial circles. A lot of influences seep into khost - and I'll touch on them later - but industrial music seems to have been a long term influence on both of you. Could you elaborate on your discovery of industrial music, your pre-khost industrial projects and the associations that sprung from this?
DB: I love how everyone will have a different notion of what 'industrial' means... for me it's stuff in spirit like: Banshees 'Metal Postcard'. Julee Cruise performing in a barren, partially deserted soundstage. Rollins Band on second album slaying with just two roadworks-style floodlights clamped either side of stage. Type O Negative's early bleak, loud, desolate gigs. Devo Freedom of Choice. Industrial-inspired atmospheres in dubstep and in D&B over time, and stuff like Clarity, Pessimist and various parts of Russia, Ukraine, Poland etc. Hunters & Collectors live. The way Gira and Jarboe worked the super nocturnal, twilight parameters of Skin. For khost if there's some sort of industrial vapour permeating the corridors then that's about right, for me.
AS: I was a little too young to appreciate the first wave of punk but was blown away by the post-punk era. The first bands I heard that were placed under the 'Industrial' banner would have been Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, SPK, Clock DVA and all those other associated acts from that era. TG were the ones that changed everything for me though. They were the band that inspired me to create 'something'. I met Justin Broadrick around this time and started creating very harsh electronics in the vein of Whitehouse and Ramleh releasing pretty much everything we recorded on numerous cassette only format. We started using the name Smear Campaign but quickly switched to Final playing a number of live shows in and around Birmingham. Our first live show was at The Mermaid which, years later, became a punk venue spawning the Grindcore scene. The tape scene was huge back then and we hooked up with quite a few people at the time such as Tim Gane who later went on to form Stereolab.
What about Birmingham? I hear elements of the city and the different cultures in the sound that veers between claustrophobia and desolation. How does the cityscape inform the sound of khost? Do you think if you lived elsewhere the sound would be different?
DB: Was always around the Aston/Handsworth/Newtown areas and it rubs right off let me tell you.
AS: I've got this idea that the UK canal networks all flow into Birmingham as the central hub. So Birmingham gets all the dirt, waste and filth from other cities pooling like a huge stagnant pond. I'm sure this seeps into the very ground and oozes out at different points giving Birmingham this unique sound. No matter how many shiny new buildings they put up, the very foundations remain coated in the same material. If I didn't live in Birmingham I'm sure that the khost sound would differ. Although it's changed a great deal, the brutal architecture, factories and general industrialisation had a massive impact on me. I used to work at the Longbridge car plant and a lot of the buildings and machinery dated back to the second world war. The stamp shops and foundries were like walking into another world which is what the khost sound is all about.
Before you start do you have an idea on how a song is going to sound? How do you compose? What's a khost recording session like? Would you work with an outside producer?
DB: Would love an external producer and a great, 'lived-in' studio... so many great albums I think were crafted by at least one... or multiple producers and all of it, the people, room, location: that's an integral part of the album. That's why we think of 'Berlin' with Iggy and Bowie or 'Denmark' with Metallica for me, don't get me started...
I mean, you as a band entrust a sound person to sum up or harness what you do on stage... someone you may not even know. So then it follows that to have someone who knows you work in close quarters... well, should be essential practice.
AS: I have no idea how a song is going to sound. They have a life of their own and a lot of the time the process seems completely out of our hands as if driven by some other force so maybe we've been working with an unknown producer all along. A lot of the tracks start with a general riff or chord structure that occasionally fits around a sample that we've found. Or, on the other hand, we've done tracks that have developed from a dream or some sound that has developed when we've played live.
I saw you in Glasgow where you performed with visuals. Do you approach live shows differently? You have performed as a three-piece show where Syan performed live vocals, tell us about this and was this just a one-off? Who is Syan?
DB: Syan's a mutual friend with a specific lyrical mindset; am sure we'll perform with her again. The live shows are varied, they have always had different elements: backing, visuals, 4 track, dictaphone, all sorts.
AS: Yes, we try and vary every show by using different visuals, lighting techniques and other subliminal sounds and experiments. We've got lots of plans and ideas to make the stage setting even more interesting and these will hopefully develop fully over time. We've got a web resource at the khost site where we collect lots of visual ideas as clips we've sourced from various locations and other found footage from old camcorders. This is an ongoing project that is constantly evolving.
And since we've just mentioned Syan's vocals, can I ask you about the collaborations that feature within khost? It's an impressive list including Oxbow's Eugene S Robinson, cellist Jo Quail and Tunnels of ĀH. How do they fit within khost? What do they bring to khost?
DB: Always great to have these dislocated voices and impulses coming out of the darkness when we play I find. That also ties in with the cover of Governance: partially hidden entities coming out of the background.
AS: I've known Stephen Burroughs from Tunnels of ĀH since the early eighties. He played in Comicide and later Head of David. He actually reviewed another band I played in for a local newspaper. Tunnels are killer live too. I met Jo through a mutual friend and she recorded some cello for Iroha. I met up with her when she was supporting Jarboe in Birmingham and after she kindly gave me a copy of her CD I found a couple of cello parts that fitted perfectly into the khost sound. As Damian mentioned it's perfect to have some spoken word snippets from Eugene or Stephen coming over the PA when they're actually dislocated from us hundreds of miles away.
Daniel Buess who sadly passed away last year supplied rhythms for khost. Did his involvement spring from Damian's work with 16-17? How did the involvement of Daniel Buess work? What was his role in khost?
DB: I played with Daniel in Cortex, with Alex Buess, a machine. He has a similar style to Michael Wertmüller who has history with 16-17, as well. He would always supply beats and we'd discuss these too, right up until he disappeared. I wrote a track called 'Cryptic Dusk' for him after - with his beats - and performed it last year in Germany in a tribute show to him... it's about 15 minutes long. It'll get released one day but am not in a rush to.
AS: I never actually met Daniel but have a picture of him wearing a khost shirt on tour which was a lovely touch. His loops and drums sounds were incredible and totally unique in that he crafted his kit himself out of pieces of metal and other materials. There was always the thought that he would join and play live with us one day but sadly this didn't happen.
Back to the visuals, I just realised that Daniel Conway who has been working with Wrangler has produced visuals for khost, how did that come about?
DB: Dan's a phenomenal DJ and electronic music authority: we go back through shit loads of carthage gigs I did with him and his crew. He also designed the khost logo on Governance which is a thing of wonder in itself, whichever way you look at it.
AS: Dan's visuals have a certain quality that draws the observer in and, yes, his reconstruction of the khost logo is totally unique. It's something we'd like to incorporate more into the shows making them even more visually challenging than they already are.
khost are open to other musical styles and every album closes with a remix, including Novatron's Kevin Laska, Hostage/Adrian Stainburner. How do you decide who to approach and why?
DB: It's organic and spontaneous.
AS: Yes, there's no specific idea who to ask, it just seems to evolve quite naturally. Coincidentally, after Kevin remixed '14 Daggers' we spent some time with him on the Godflesh tour so it came full circle. The Hostage remix totally blew me away when I first heard it and we sometimes play it as an outro after playing live.
There's been remixes from drum and bass artists such as Hostage and Necrobia, and I believe Andy may have been involved in some electronic dance music releases a long time ago. Does this area of music interest both of you? Andy would you care to elaborate your endeavours here?
DB: Personally go back in D&B/beats over many many late nights over decades but that's another story.
AS: I became interested in electronic dance music in the early mid eighties. Punk, for me, was finished. Some 'Industrial' acts were moving forward and experimenting more and incorporating dance music (Cabs were a big inspiration here) into their sound. Early Detroit techno tracks were beginning to filter through as well and it just seemed like a natural progression as opposed to stagnating. I did some full on House stuff and some US style Garage that got released back in the day. I still like some Basic Channel stuff and D&B on late night drives is always a good sound.
I just noticed a remix album from Satori. I don't know how I missed this, but tell us about this?
AS: Dave Kirby of Satori reached out to ask if we'd mind him remixing Copper Lock Hell. We were very flattered and he did an amazing job considering he did it without using any stems.
Who would be the ideal remixer? And would khost be interested in remixing anyone and if so who?
DB: Not really remixing, more a thought of collaborating but personally would love to work with the Converge and Wear Your Wounds people in terms of ideals, not least just to rap with them about music.
The last remix we did was for FFF, and there's also something new happening right now, but it's not 'remixing' in the trad sense in my view; it's more like pulling up a chair and working on something with them in conjunction, with record button on.
AS: We've remixed a couple of people now including FFF as Damian mentioned and Sobaki Tabaka which is due for release in the Autumn. Someone like Chris Carter/Cosey Fanni Tutti would be a dream remixer for me. Or maybe someone like Graeme Revell who was in SPK but is now a movie scorer - might be interesting.
Your involvement with Hostage lead to some shows in Israel, how did that go?
DB: Really awesome. It felt dreamlike. Go again soon I hope.
AS: Israel was incredible, almost surreal. Playing a show a couple of minutes walk from the old town of Jerusalem was quite an experience. It was great to meet up with the vAv guys, Hostage and Mark from Orgasmatron Records who put the shows together. We had an interesting trip to Jericho which we later found out meant we'd crossed over into Palestinian territory.
And you've also been involved in contributing to a soundtrack to Dorohedoro, one in a series of a Japanese graphic novels? How did that come about? What did you contribute? Are soundtracks something that interest you?
AS: Ume from the Murder Channel label in Japan got in touch to ask if khost would be interested in submitting a track to a soundtrack that would accompany the Japanese Dorohedoro graphic novels. The books are written by the manga artist Q Hayashida who specifically asked for khost as she is a fan which was incredibly flattering. We contributed a version of 'Redacted Repressed Recalcitrant'. The soundtrack was released on a gorgeous CD double pack wrapped in an A4 size book cover.
The Taxi Driver score is amazing and another Herrmann score that I love is the one he did for Vertigo. We've recently contributed a track to The Doxey Boggart which is an independent movie created by local film-maker, Jonathon Watkiss. The packaging of the DVD is incredible for this one as well incorporating hand printed sleeves, polaroids, documents and samples of grass taken from the location of the film in Stafford.
DB: I love films by artists like Sergei Parajanov: the soundtracks of these in particular and the time they were recorded and they way they've aged. I love film noir soundtracks. Black comedies from 70s with people like MJQ, amazing. Taxi Driver and Bernard Herrmann's interpretation which is like the breath of the city, all wheezy and dying.
It depends on the film. A film like La Haine has a soundtrack that seems almost stitched in to the subconscious it's so good. Same thing with Head, by the Monkees. Cheap 70s/80s art films and horror films. Or where film and rock joins, like Pink Floyd at Pompeii, so rare.
For me, the goal or total ideal for film work that anyone in music should be working towards is hearing their stuff roaring out of insanely high tech cinema speakers, the more belligerent and up the better. But it's usually wasted when it comes to blockbusters and mainstream as usually overthought and watered down, for marketing, and for clowns. They use the volume and clarity of sound as a gimmick: to jolt people away from their phones. Mainstream and underground alike.
Okay, back to khost releases Needles Into The Ground brought you back to working with Justin Broadrick. Both of you have a past association with Justin in projects such as Final and Techno Animal but how did the collaboration with Justin come about? Was it simply a commission? Although marketed as Godflesh it really exemplified his more experimental work and oppressive rhythms of his JK Flesh solo work, would you agree? You must have been pleased with what he did to the khost sound, were you?
DB: Have worked with Justin in a few capacities, from working on beats, working on atmospheric tracks to working with Deathless in the past at Avalanche where Justin contributed bass to a track, and there's a shared vibe for sure.
It wasn't a commission for Needles, there were discussions about it and there was a sense it all developed over time. Needles sounds phenomenal through a big system.
AS: I've known Justin since we were both teenagers making electronic noise in Birmingham so the idea of a Godflesh remix project evolved quite naturally. The remixes are incredible and really are a blend of full on Godflesh mixed with the beats of JK Flesh. There are versions of a couple of the remixes that were mastered even more brutally if that's possible! I know Justin wanted to make them as harsh and extreme as possible and he achieved that for sure.
I found 'Deathsset' the sole khost track on the EP much starker than the tracks found on your albums. Was this intentional and when was the track recorded?
DB: Thanks for feedback btw. It's from a time/session as a few others, like 'Red Spot'.
AS: This was just how khost sounded at the time. It's faster than most khost tracks but think the increased BPM fits well with the lyrical content.
khost are often described as industrial doom metal, but how would you describe khost? What are your influences? Who do you consider your peers?
DB: Anyone with amps, vans and logistics.
AS: I quite like that people struggle to pigeonhole us. I don't think we're 'doom' in the traditional sense at all and I think we get tagged as Industrial because we haven't got a drummer at the moment. I don't think we're even a band as such - it comes across live as more of a performance art piece than a gig. Peer-wise I'd go back to bands that were playing in and around Birmingham back in the early eighties such as Family Patrol Group, Death Magazine 52, SHC, Comicide - all massively ahead of their time. Musically speaking, I've got ridiculously diverse tastes ranging from the TG side of things right through to Nick Drake. Found footage movies are a great influence as well.
The vocals are hard to decipher but what are the main influences and inspirations on the lyrics that feature in khost?
AS: Copper Lock Hell's lyrics were largely cut ups taken from Les Chants de Maldoror. Corrosive Shroud's and perhaps to a lesser extent the vocals on Governance were more stream of consciousness, 'first-take' style vocals. There are some specific themes on certain tracks however. 'Deathsset' for example has the line, "Dig deep, austerity's a fucker, dig deep" and 'Stockholm Syndrome' is a hostage metaphor for tower block living.
Corrosive Shroud focussed on a sense of degradation and destruction and how what's been lost impacts upon how we live, does that sound about right? What were the themes behind Corrosive Shroud?
DB: It was effectively visualising night in some colony, inside places they want us to live, to scratch together to get energy enough to create art in same way that you scratch together to collect wood to get fire. Some people are forced to live in rapidly declining states and I feel that some don't see this. Others really insist on it: they would be happy with a concrete cubicle and a broadband connection: they are sick, diseased, bewitched.
khost music summons visions of our urban surroundings; its empty buildings and vacant spaces. It seem to reflect the environment and how it impacts us, but Governance seems more concerned with the personal and political control. Is that right?
DB: It's about the things/entities. you sense about you, the pressures that silently guide and potentially disarm you. That's what the cover image is. The main figure has a card with three daggers and one way up of this card is one meaning, inverted is another. If their intentions are 'benign' or 'positive' or whatever you infer from your experience/awareness, well, it's nothing to do with you. We have no say in it. Their forms are crude and badly rendered as that's maybe how they are or are seen as.
Regarding empty spaces, yes: that's an obsession. How much has been hastily created and now abandoned due to short term thinking and greed? Much of modern cities could be bulldozed and made into farms.
AS: khost is definitely a reflection of urban, industrialized surroundings but, yes, Governance is more about being controlled by unseen entities. Empty precincts, deserted houses and derelict warehouses all have that aura about them. 'Low Oxygen Silo' began as a vision of one of those huge, deserted water tanks that loom over the landscape.
There's an overriding sense of unease within the khost sound. What's your take on the current political climate in the UK?
DB: The only ever politics is down to people/consumers, and what they want: what they eat, the plastics they waste, the massive corporate conglomerates they heavily and fastidiously bankroll, the factory cars they adore despite how totally comical they will be regarded as in the near future, the fuels they burn that will never replenish, the lies they tell their kids...
That's what power is, and how they - solely they - push and really invest hard work in looking for ongoing ways to abuse it.
Governance absorbed noisier and harsher elements but it also featured some more ambient moments. Do you see khost as an ever evolving unit?
DB: It is and I also like that some aspects devolve too. There's parts of the earlier material and also from the Marked release, like 'Room Five' which I'm referring to in songwriting mode as we speak, for the next batch. There's one approach I take which is to turn everything down and record layers of things - guitars, drums - like that.
AS: khost will go wherever it takes us really. There's certain aspects of the live performance that we'd like to enhance but that will happen if it's meant to. It's an odd thing that when we play live there's always a new element or sound that seems to appear at some point in the set that's completely random and chaotic so I'd like to explore that factor a lot more.
'Defraction' is something special on Governance, in our review we described it as a "devastating horror score saturated in doom metal sonics", what were you trying to achieve with it?
DB: It's another room in the compound.
AS: I like that description a lot. The album does feel like exploring different rooms of a deserted compound in the middle of a completely unknown country. Again, 'Defraction' evolved completely naturally over a number of recording sessions. I like that it has a slow build with several different elements leading up to the cello score drifting over the top then later with the granite slab guitars crushing it all back to a pulp.
We've touched on a lot but is there something that we've missed that deserves a mention? What's next for khost?
DB: Just to say 'Coven' is about living with evil fuckers not overtly stereotypically evil ones like depicted in movies. But either way people need to fix up and take a look at how the species is (d)evolving.
Looking to do a broadcast of a set from some location that fits, with a few cameras clamped to walls, and work in general progresses.
AS: We'd like to take khost out to tour Europe and the US.
khost on Facebook - khost Facebook page
khost on bandcamp - khost Bandcamp page
Cold Spring Records - label for khost releases
khost site - khost site
Daniel Conway visuals - Daniel Conway's Vimeo channel
Doxey Boggart - The Doxey Boggart soundtrack and DVD
All photographs of khost supplied by khost