It's been over 40 years since Portion Control pioneered the use of sampling in their electro industrial sound. They disbanded in the late 80s but returned after a decade and evolved to use more contemporary music tools. Even with the band's last few recent releases, they've managed to retain a heavy experimental sound with cohesive dance beats. John Whybrew and Dean Piavani remain at the helm and this September they will be taking the legendary UK Industrial act on tour for the first time in the US. They will also be on the bill for the largest industrial festival in the US, Cold Waves.
Here is what John had to share with us before finally making their American live debut.
Through the years there have been a lot of diverse elements to your music. From experimental, ebm, industrial, dark ambient, techno, and even synthpop. Whatever the sound was, it seemed to have integrity and was really just punk at it’s core. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?
John Whybrew: We have always cited the UK punk scene as the catalyst for our existence.
What makes it punk?
John Whybrew: I don’t mean the cliched safety pins, spiky hair or the Pistols and the Clash. More the DIY ethic that punk encouraged. Suddenly anyone could form a band and musical ability wasn’t, at least initially, important. At this same point music was rapidly embracing electronics and analogue was beginning to diminish as digital took over. By the early 1980’s punk transformed into post-punk and synthesizers and electronics was becoming more affordable. Post punk spawned the early industrial and electronic bands. Some of these acts were influenced by a more prog/folk/hippy aesthetic. Portion Control was clearly more punk influenced particularly in its song structure edgier overtones.
What punk or post punk bands influence Portion Control’s sound and what gives it integrity?
John Whybrew: We started somewhat naively in the bedroom electronics/cassette scene which was beginning to burgeon. Probably Pink Flag by Wire and the early Pop Group helped inspire us, quickly followed by the early UK Industrial scene where we found a home. What set us apart was our basic punk song structure ie intro, verse, chorus etc… Whilst modern PC has strayed a little we still like to keep our tracks direct and predominately rhythm based.
I think the integrity you noted is both in the character of the tracks and through the lyrics. We have refused to be over influenced or to veer far from our initial premise of ‘hard rhythmic electronics’.
Did you share any of that audience from the UK punk scene when you first started out or were they turned off because you were using machines instead of conventional instruments? Were there any Exploited fans at your shows?
John Whybrew: We certainly gained interest from the punk scene but it was long dark overcoats that became the ‘uniform’ for the more industrial post punk audiences. Exploited were a whole different tribe! The whole Oi scene was certainly big at the time.
Did you ever get any interesting reactions, feedback, or interactions from the audience at a live performance?
John Whybrew: No more than anyone else. We had some fanatical concerts in Spain in the early days and played lots of small Clubs across Europe. The Netherlands was brilliant in the early 1980’s but less so now. We have seen the landscape Change over the years but there still seems to be an energy for the scene although more indoor multi band line-ups seems more feasible.
I notice each Portion Control release has twists and turns. Without necessarily pertaining to sound, which song, EP, or album do you think best represents Portion Control or is your personal favorite?
John Whybrew: That’s a hard question as we always like our newest release, so probably SEED EP3. If anyone was new to PC maybe Pure Form is a good option. ‘Simulate Sensual’ from the early days. ‘wellcome’ was our first release after returning in 2004 and remains a favorite.
What does success mean for you, your art, and Portion Control?
John Whybrew: We still, above all else, enjoy the technical and music creation side. We don’t consider ourselves a conventional band or musicians. Portion Control has never been our main income, we don’t do long tours or have massive keyboard racks, we don’t collaborate or care for the music industry at all, but on a creative side we still love a good bass sequence and creating our trademark electronics. We have always pushed forward with new ideas and never relied on regurgitation of ‘older standards’
What would you see or would like to see for the future of the band?
John Whybrew: More releases and experimenting within our boundaries. Live concerts continue to play an important part of our existence and hopefully we can continue these for the foreseeable future.
Portion Control has had releases on some interesting independent Post Punk labels early on in your history like Illuminated Records and In Phaze. How do you think you benefited from your collaboration with them?
John Whybrew: The early attachment to labels helped us build an identity and, pre-internet helped us distribute our material to the markets in the US and Europe, albeit on a small scale. The UK fanzine and music press also was influential during this period.
Did any of them play a role in getting you on the tour with Depeche Mode?
John Whybrew: We were contacted by Daniel Miller who was aware of our stuff and he offered us support for Depeche Mode in the UK