Bark Psychosis - Biography
One of the lesser known yet most pivotal projects to fall under the post-rock idiom, England’s Bark Psychosis are progenitors of the genre who first stormed the scene with their career-defining 1994 album, Hex (Circa/EMI). First formed in 1986 by a teenage Graham Sutton (vocals/various instruments) and John Ling (bass/samples), the original iteration of the band consisted also of fellow Londoners Daniel Gish (keyboard/piano) and Mark Simnett (drums/percussion). The band maintained an ever-evolving elasticity to its sound in its most active years from the late-1980s through the mid-1990s, beginning first as a sheet of noise before experimenting in minimalism, psychedelia, electronic dance music, jazz, classical and dub, creating—when taken as a whole—their own signature style of atmospheric expression. The one constant with the group always been the element of surprise.
Bark Psychosis’s roster has also evolved from a more traditional quartet to a project headed by Sutton with a rotating cast of contributors. Though the project has undergone many changes, a long hiatus and constant sound restructuring/experimentation, they have released two full-length albums and multiple EPs. When famed British critic Simon Reynolds’ reviewed Hex in 1994 for Mojo, he used the term “post-rock” to describe it, thus coining the term for a genre that contains everyone from Tortoise to PiL. Bark Psychosis is now synonymous with the term, and in many circles are considered the first true “post-rock” band.
Sutton grew up listening to bands like Sonic Youth and hardcore acts like Swans, and when he first began tinkering in a band with schoolmate Ling—both only 14 years old at the time—the idea was to turn the amplifiers up into a blanket of noise. Using drummer Simnett’s connections to a church crypt in Stratford, the band rehearsed religiously at first on Napalm Death covers, and later originals. Sutton—a fan of classical music, dub and jazz as well—found that an individual sound wasn’t native to his musical sense, and didn’t want their sound to be confined. By the late-1980s, he made the realization that the opposite of hardcore was more effective—that “space and silence are the most important tools you can use in music”—and along with his now full band Bark Psychosis began experimenting in dronology, atmospherics, manipulations of acoustic space with abrupt forays into the wall of sound. During this transition, and even as late as 1994 when Hex was released, he was quoted as saying that he maintained a hardcore attitude, even if the music reflected something harder to define.
In 1989, while Sutton was still a teenager, Bark Psychosis had its first original release—a single called “All Different Things” (Cheree) that also featured Sue Page’s vocals, and they played out live for the first time in London. After tours with Spiritualized and The Telescopes, the band was being hailed as great innovative live show, for extended instrumentals and erratic stage performance. “Nothing Feels” came out a year later, with “I Know” on the reverse side, which was an early triumph. By 1991, with drummer Daniel Gish (formerly of Disco Inferno) now on-board, they released the Manman EP on 3rd Stone, which dealt more than previous output in technophile sampling and programming, a directional shift that would continue evolve electronically.
A year later, Bark Psychosis scored its first big notoriety when the spooky 21-minute single “Scum” came out, an ambient track recorded at their rehearsal space/sanctuary, St. John’s Church. Melody Maker made it their single of the week, and cries for a full-length effort amongst their growing lot of fans got louder.
Their initial LP would come in the form of the highly-texturized Hex. Again using acoustics and atmospherics in creating abstract soundscapes, the group recorded at the location that has become almost as legendary as the band, at St. John’s, where they captured unique reverb and deep acoustics. It took nearly a year of often-contentious, emotionally-draining sessions to make the album, which culminated when Ling—weary from butting heads with Sutton through the duration on creative matters—left the group, just prior to touring.
It was in the March issue of Mojo that year that Reynolds used the term “post-rock” to describe Bark Psychosis’ electronic soundscape, and though he didn’t invent the classification, the band’s music framed the concept in a way that people immediately understood and adopted into popular vernacular. While the album didn’t do gangbuster sales either in the UK or in North America, it holds historical relevance for being one of the first (and most revolutionary) post-rock examples.
The techno-centric Blue EP would follow in 1994, and the duo of Simnett and Sutton toured as Bark Psychosis with special guests joining them on stage. Soon Simnett left the group as well, and Sutton—who had all but abandoned the indie and experimental-rock elements in favor of sequenced sound and programming—moved on to begin a drum-and-bass project called Boymerang. Though the name Bark Psychosis remained alive until 1997, over the next decade they would not produce any new material directly associated, and Sutton would also begin working as a record producer, working with British Sea Power and Snowpony among others.
In 2004, Sutton recorded ///Codename: Dustsucker (Fire Records), essentially a solo project with various cameos from people like Lee Harris (drummer of Talk Talk), multifarious German player Rachel Dreyer (piano/vox) and Colin Bradley (guitarist of Dual). Though the minimalist use of space and sequencing was still very much in evidence, there were folk undertones and forays into Indian music which again signaled a change in the never-comfortable Bark Psychosis sound.
Though they never achieved big commercial success and their recording output was essentially confined in two LPs and a few retrospectives—the collected EPs on Independency (1994), culled tracks both rare and known on Game Over (1997) and the collection of singles on Replay (2004), Bark Psychosis remain revered critically and have inspired countless bands in progressive genres.