Blade Jogger interview
GAZ-15, the protagonist from the forthcoming vinyl release BLADE JOGGER is wandering around the space between my headphones on repeat. Who is GAZ-15? ‘He’s all of us’, says Austin Collings the man behind the lyrics via Messenger: ‘He walks amongst us’. Elsewhere he’s also described GAZ-15 as an ‘ex-bouncer, ex-lover and full-time-fuck-up’.
This exchange happens as Austin sits in an unfamiliar house in Manchester. According to Messenger this follows a 41-hour black hole of online inactivity. I’ve been waiting for him. Whatever the party was last night, it’s over now. They want him out. He’s GAZ-15’d it. He’s stranded waiting in a stranger’s living room until it’s time to leave for his scheduled train back home. I’m the green light flashing active in his hand. Thus begins an Android textual interlude. We are in the midst of organising PR for Blade Jogger – a bleakly comic and moving musical collaboration that summons up the feeling of a medicated drift. The words are Austin’s and the music comes from By The Sea band with a Bill Ryder-Jones production credit.
Austin: ‘Sue, I’m on the rattler, feeling like a dejected donkey’
He’s out of the house and on the train at Piccadilly. Our narrative and conversations are offset from the characters and locations that inhabit our real time in the same way that Austin and Liam Power have re-written and re-scored Blade Runner: ‘The place is England: a horrible electronic slum. The time is 22 minutes into the future’. My exchanges with Austin are both visceral and remote and that’s mainly because of his talent as a writer. GAZ-15 continues along my neural pathways: ‘Have you had problems with your connection? Bad gateways. 404 Forbidden. I’m lost without my electro-rear-window’.
I’m about to enter The Jacaranda basement in Liverpool and know we’ll lose our connection. I elongate the chat with a cigarette outside in the shadow of their noir blinds and blue black light. It’s freezing. As within Blade Jogger ‘in this less-than-United-Kingdom, the rain must fall continuously’. I stand clicking into my rain drizzled phone and get a migraine off the blur.
Austin first tuned in to me during October 2016 from Dog-Shit-Valley and I picked up the signals somewhere close to a nuclear power station in suburbia. He searched ‘Sue Bennett’, found me in the algorithm. I came up in the same search results as the actress ‘Sue Bennett’ that plays the real voice behind iPhone’s Siri. It’s a replication in the data of two women that both happen to speak through machines. Unlike Siri I’m speaking to Austin in real time.
I received his Add Friend request with the profile picture of an empty male Facebook silhouette. A humanoid template. No selfie. No profile picture. No music for the mood organ. I was already familiar with Austin’s work and clicked ‘Accept’. I knew him as Dazed defined him: ‘the desperate North’s new narrator’, but not by sight. It’s over a year later. I’m an ephemeral digital female and a long-distance friend trading under the name Replicant Press. GAZ-15 is vibrating within my auditory cortices; he’s high on the new drug Swendab that’s doing the rounds within the world of Blade Jogger and totally paranoid: ‘I don’t want to touch that keyboard. I don’t want to set it on fire. You say it’s perfectly safe but I don’t believe you’. I scroll through my messages.
It turns out his Facebook silhouette is nothing unusual. Austin rarely does photographs and this could be tricky as we’re setting up a press shoot for Blade Jogger of Austin and his collaborative bandmate - Liam Power from By The Sea. Natalie Curtis has been scouting for locations in Manchester’s Chinatown and has found the perfect neon-soaked scene to snap these untypical icons. Austin’s blank Facebook silhouette buzzes back at me: ‘Kubrick didn’t like having his photograph taken’. Later Natalie compares the experience of photographing them to what she imagines ‘wrangling a cat to be like’. The photograph isn’t going out to press, however. It will be given to a select few Instagram accounts that will operate as Replicants.
Austin makes it home from the rattler and by this time I’m at my house on the couch. My attention moves back to Messenger and GAZ-15 in my headphones:
GAZ-15: ‘Is that him calling? That’s your phone ringing. That’ll be him calling.’
Austin: ‘Sue, I wish you could make me soup and change the channels for me’.
Sue: ‘Me too. Do you want bread?’
Austin: ‘Yes. Yes thanks. [Austin smiles]’
Sue: ‘Send me a selfie. I’m starting to feel alienated by the silhouette’
Austin: ‘My phone is from the Jurassic era’.
Sue: ‘Pose as a T-Rex’
Austin’s blank silhouette read receipt drops down and a photograph of Withnail is returned.
The Voight-Kampff machine in Blade Runner tested people to see if they were human or merely bio-robotic android Replicants; it would not know what to make of all of these text messages. It’s dusk and now that Austin is home safe we search for full episodes of vintage Neighbours to watch long-distance in sync. Austin is struggling for a distraction to his fear of the encroaching darkness. I send a screen recording of me Poking the man that played Carl Kennedy. Somewhere in Australia the actor Alan Fletcher’s trouser pocket buzzes as we simultaneously watch him begin his on-screen affair with Sarah Beaumont in 1997.
GAZ-15 says: ‘World War 3. It all started with a text. And the children of the future – with their grey skin and hooks for hands – will ask their decapitated parents - but what did it mean? The TEXT?’
These lyrics will be implicitly inscribed within the nostalgia of this generation’s photographic timeline. Its transmission has been funded by Steve Ryan, or as Austin affectionately calls him Steve SWENDAB after the drug that takes over GAZ-15. Steve has grounded this project, but what does his 21st century literary benefactor look like?
Austin: ‘Builder by day, force of nature by night. Steve is a close friend and a true gambler. He believes in people – truly believes in them. He’s from a different era in that respect, more like somebody who’d hang around with the Stones in the early 70s: Keith’s confidante or something. He’s got adventure written in his veins and he knows the score when it comes to backing people. If he was a Top Trump he’d be hard to beat in my eyes’.
Austin falls asleep; his guilt chills from the dead spirit of last night’s party quelled by Ramsey Street. The photoshoot and the Blade Jogger release looms large over his sleeping body. I get an email back from Liam Power. It’s his bio for the website. It reads:
‘Born in Liverpool, raised in Meols, based nowhere. Songwriter in By The Sea. I drift in the day and write in the night. Best mates with an animal. All fine? Nothing more excruciating for me than writing a bio. Plus, I’m watching a corker of a Customs UK double bill here’.
Perfect. Austin says ‘I’d like to think that if UFO’s ever did decide to stop hedging their bets and touch down then the country would elect Liam to meet them at the crossroads because I think he might be on their wavelength’.
As it turns out Liam’s next earthly meeting will be with Austin and Natalie Curtis outside of a strip club for his photograph. Austin texts me from outside: ‘we’re stood under the suspicious eye of a dishevelled bouncer. (It may be GAZ-15 himself)’. Nick Power, the poet and The Coral keyboardist has driven his brother Liam up out of Holy Nowhere to meet Austin in Manchester. Their first stop is the pub.
Austin’s silhouette narrates to me from the bar: ‘Liam said to me that he’d only eaten two slices of toast at his mum’s house. He’s now drinking a full pint in the space of me ordering a pint and sitting down. He also said he recorded most of BLADE JOGGER using a keyboard that he’d ‘lent’ off James Skelly: it’s all in the ‘lent’ – if I ever read that somebody lent an instrument to record an album then you’ve hooked me in with that detail’. This message precedes 17 more logged hours of online inactivity. GAZ-15 and the voice of James Stannage keeps me company ‘Nobody comes. Nobody calls’. They’re off the radar for foreseeable.
A week later Natalie sends me the photographs, but I’m still talking to the silhouette. I ask Austin why he doesn’t like getting his photograph taken. The blank face says: ‘That epic second before the person taking your photograph captures it is excruciating. Then you see the image/s of yourself and you look like your own long-lost sad uncle. I don’t need any of that’.
The next time I see Austin and Liam it will be in the flesh. We will be transposing our primary images at the Blade Jogger launch party at Make North Docks in Liverpool on December 16th. You are invited. In the meantime you can hunt down the photographs of Liam and Austin now and become a Replicant yourself. The first one is here with a Nick Power photobomb. If you post it to Instagram, follow @bytheseaband and use the hashtag #bladejogger GAZ-15 will stalk your profile and pick one person to own the only signed print of the Natalie Curtis cat-lad wrangle. Enter as many times as you like – there is more than one image out there. We’ll all be looking at your profiles too – mainly because we need somewhere to stay for the launch night December 16th. If anyone’s got a house free in Liverpool for 24 hours of online inactivity let us know. GAZ-15 says ‘We’ve all got late night needs’. He’s waiting for you at www.bladejogger2049.com.
BLADE JOGGER will be released on 12" vinyl on Dec. 15th. You can pre-order here: http://warroomrecords.bigcartel.com/product/blade-jogger-pre-order
Photograph - Natalie Curtis.