Interview by Greg Clow, Chart Magazine, October 1998.
A technohead I may now be, but deep down I still hold much reverence for the old-school industrialists. Oh yes, I fancied myself quite the little doom cookie in my younger years, and Einsturzende Neubauten, SPK, Skinny Puppy, Test Dept. and many more occupy a special place in the teenage angst-ridden core of my heart.
Scott Mackay — he who is Bitter Harvest — understands. For his debut CD release, Ritual Music For Broken Magick (Gaijin Silver/Outside), Mackay draws upon these same murky corners of the musical netherworld. “This album has really been something like ten years in the works,” he explains. “I started Bitter Harvest in the mid-’80s when I was working at CKDU, the college radio station in Halifax, where I met all these crazy freaks with massive album collections. I heard all the early industrial bands, and then I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do. But I knew I didn’t have the money to do it, I didn’t have the equipment to do it, and I didn’t really have the technical skill to do it to my full satisfaction.”
These grand designs were then set aside while Mackay spent the following decade playing drums for various Halifax hardcore bands, multimedia noise terrorists Phycus, and the electronic lounge-pop trio Devoured. He also slapped the Bitter Harvest moniker on a variety of cassette releases that ran the gamut from pure noise to Depeche Mode styled synthpop. But through it all, he didn’t lose sight of his original vision, and when the opportunity came to finally press a CD he set aside his commercial aspirations to produce a more heartfelt work of brooding and mystic tribal ambiance.
As noted, Mackay is not without his influences. He cites albums such as SPK’s Zamia Lehmanni as providing a great deal of inspiration. But he is quick to note that “a lot of influences don’t show so obviously in terms of the sound of the album, it’s more in the ideas. Like the early ideas behind Coil and Psychic TV, and the feel and mood of a lot of that music. Sleep Chamber was another big influence, but you don’t really hear any Sleep Chamber in the album.”
And of course, in today’s musical climate of instant reference points, it’s been hard to avoid comparisons to established artists. “What often gets quoted is that it sounds like Muslimgauze, which is fair enough. But I think the difference is that he uses genuine Arabic rhythm patterns, whereas I’ll pick a rhythm and play with it, so my music is of no genuine ethnicity.”
“I also think that his songs are very unstructured and loose, while my songs are very structured. I’m a drummer, so it’s hard for me not to be structured. I find myself falling into structure even when I don’t want to. On the last track on the album, I sort of mapped it out, and said ‘O.K., this is where it’ll be structured, and this is where it’ll be loose’ — sort of planning the chaos.”
More evidence of Mackay’s industial roots can be seen in his use of the “magic with a k” terminology often associated with the grandpappy of industial, Genesis P-Orridge, and his projects Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV. But what exactly is broken magick? Mackay explains that he practices “a form of broken magick in the same way that broken English is not real English, it’s a bastardization of English. P-Orridge’s idea of magick was to make everything public, to make it for everyone, whereas I think more like Peter Christopherson (former TG/PTV member who split with P-Orridge to form Coil) — magick is based on symbols that you have to build in yourself, and if you start seeing them everywhere, they’ll lose their value. So my broken magick is based on a lot of the ideas that were present in PTV and the Temple of Psychic Youth back then, but specifically, the things that I believe are not the same.”
BY GREG CLOW