"Pulp had to leave Sheffield when we did. It was like everything had come to halt here after everything that was going on in the early 80s. Sometimes you have to get out of your environment to expand what you do. Pulp had been around for a long time and had really hit a wall. Times have changed a lot. At the time there were artists that weren’t very good at putting themselves forward. Now there’s good things coming out of Sheffield and there’s no need move to London but at that time......”
Steve Mackey is back in Sheffield to promote the AUTO festival himself and Jarvis Cocker are running at the Magna plant in Rotherham. Moving to London gave them the freedom to expand. It seems leaving their record label has given them a similar freedom and a new lease of life.
Pulp, with the exception of a fine greatest hits album, have left Island’s building and seem to be having fun again.
AUTO may be one of the best things to happen in the Steel city for years. It might remind people to pick up the baton.
The impression is that there there was some strain in the ten-year relationship with Island and the simple folk in the world of the media seem certain that AUTO is a final fling for Sheffield’s second most durable export. Steve is less inclined to be so specific “I’ve no interest in emotional farewells, it’s just not dignified behaviour in my book. I think people are a bit confused when you say we don’t want to sign another record deal straight away or when you don’t want to give them an easy full stop.”
“We collided with the mainstream in the mid-90s and, as the laws of physics dictate, you’ll be bounced away at an equal angle of incidence. That’s what seems to have occured. We came from outside the mainstream and we shot out again and I don’t see anything unusual in that. People in the record industry would have preferred it if we hadn’t bounced. We were a bit dissatisfied with our place in the record industry. We’d had a lot of commercial success and they wanted that level to be sustained and our attitude was that music and art are not about that. They’re about making the things that intersest, stimulate and excite you. Whatever the consequences of that are. That doesn’t sit very well with the commercial attitude.”
“So we decided after the last album not to make another one with Island. The funny thing is that since that happened we’ve been asked by more people to do more interesting things than for a long time.”
The genesis of AUTO seems to have come from Pulp’s divorce from the mainstream. “Me and Jarvis started this club called Desperate - the idea being that men of our age must be quite desperate to think they’ve still got a place in a night club. We did a night in the officer’s club in a prison and we had a group of slightly odd, dysfunctional DJs, that was the start of thinking about doing stuff outside of Pulp.”
“We’d also got tired of the English festivals, they all seem to be doing the same sort of thing whereas is Europe you can go the festival like Bene Cassim and The Sound System Under the Sea which are quite inspiring. At that point we had a look at the Magna Plant, it’s a magnificent building, and thought it would be a great place to put something on.
On all the Pulp sleeves and even on the pages of Sandman, Steve always stares out, quite composed but very self-contained. Chat to him about AUTO though , and the music it is showcasing, and he gets visibly excited despite having been doing promotion for it for the last few weeks.
“Making a lot of noise is an exciting physical experience and that’s what rock’n’roll is all about, really. And a lot of electronic and house music is about getting in a space and having a physical experience with music and that doesn’t change, that doesn’t go away, that’s human nature. The way it shows itself might change. We all get excited by extreme volume and the artistic interpretation of that.”
“Electroclash does nothing for me personally, it’s all a bit cold and with AUTO we’ve tried to avoid people who are just about technology. That’s boring. We’re interested in people who’ve got personalities, who’ve come through the other side and have got interested in ideas again. And I quite like artists who come across as a bit dysfunctional and not quite fully rounded people. They often come from a sideways angle. With AUTO I’d go and see it if it was advertised.”
Oasis are playing town on the same night. At one point they often occupied the same festival bills. Any clash?
“It’ll be an interesting contrast. With Oasis and Richard Ashcroft you know what you’ll be getting. I like Oasis as people but musically we haven’t got much much in common. They’ll probably come to AUTO later that night. Noel’s interested in a lot of different music and Liam’s always interested in staying up late.”
Steve’s optimism extends beyond his own festival. “Times ARE good musically, I can feel the frisson of change in the air, everyone knows that the charts are dead, irrelevant and are going to be swept away. I don’t know what’s coming along but it’s looking good.”
It’s a nice thought that, at a time when pop is pieced together purely as product by technicians that Pulp, or its component parts are still looking place the artists amongst the artisans. A music festival in a steel works? Who’d a thought it?
words: Jack Tractor
pics: Jon Enoch