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

The concept of a record label has changed dramatically in the last 40 years. Today it’s possible for artists to do things that were out of reach back then like self release, promotion, and handle their own distribution. As an artist who has seen it change from the early 80s’ until now, do you think it’s for the better or are we culturally doomed?


John Whybrew: I think it’s better now as more democratic and the more independent control the better. The problems are the sheer amount of options and different groups vying for the same audiences. It’s pointless thinking back to how things were. Music production possibilities have improved so dramatically it is inconceivable for anyone who didn’t live though the early 1980s to even begin to understand how far technology has progressed.


Are you releasing your music exclusively on portion-control.net now?


John Whybrew: We are self-releasing at the moment. Bandcamp is becoming a good option for our releases. It may be that we close the website, as websites seem to be viewed less and less nowadays. We have had a number of more niche releases/re-releases on smaller independent labels, we are happy to support these. More recently ‘Head Buried’ was released by Kinetik in Greece and a vinyl ‘Staggered Mentally’ by Dark Entries in San Francisco.


There is a high volume of artists out there. Do you think it’s possible for the best to rise to the top in their respective scenes most of the time or is the field too saturated?


John Whybrew: I suppose the best will rise to the top although as a consumer I have always found things I like and pay no regard to how ‘successful’ they are. In some respects a weird ‘snobbery’ puts me off commercial success. This applies equally to music as well as books, films, comics, games etc. The main element that allows a band to stand out is in the character and uniquenesses- these sometimes take time to develop

Do you think Portion Control would fall through the cracks if it started up today or would it have the same level of success(by your definition) without it’s history?


John Whybrew: Fall through the cracks! I think history plays a large part in defining us and adding context. It’s taken us a long time to feel completely confident in our creation and live presentation


How do you feel about the creative content, inspiration, and motives of Industrial and electronic music today compared to how things were starting out in the early 80s?


John Whybrew: Sadly I think things have become far too predictable. There are too many clones and too little innovation/experimentation We started in an era where commercial success wasn’t even considered, in fact it wasn’t wanted. Today it’s possible to create excellent music on a phone. We are all for music being easy and cost effective to create but it does mean there is a huge amount of stuff to sift through.


Things seem to have returned full circle and new artists look to capture old sounds by finding vintage equipment. From what we’ve read you are a champion for newer technology, but what do you think of companies releasing vintage synths with modern modifications like MIDI and Polyphony capabilities?


John Whybrew: We do champion newer technology, in fact I’ve just received my Dirtywave M8 (hand assembled in LA)! Whilst being a new machine it uses the old tracker sequencing from our early Commodore 64/gameboy LSDJ days. It has fantastic built in synths alongside robust sampling. The per note FX make it very powerful. It’s industrial design is truly inspiring. We tend to like sequencers and groove box’s over Synthesisers. We are also fans of Dreadbox and the Typhon. The typhon is a small desktop mono synth that has a huge sound as well as excellent sinevibes effects. The renaissance in older analogue gear is interesting although It’s hard for us to move away from Bitwig and the computer. We do have a soft spot for Roland having extensively used the MC-202, TB-303, TR-808, CR78, TR909, Juno 106 etc… But ultimately much of our sound relies heavily on effects processing and this is far more flexible through a computer.

Would you ever try to incorporate hardware again in the creative and recording process?


John Whybrew:We do have a Roland mc707, akai mpc one and the items mentioned above and these are used for ideas, sound design and exporting stems. But ultimately the ideas are imported back into Bigwig for extending/finalising. I have a love/hate relationship with the iPad. Its getting better for musicians as Apple finally unlock the features that hold it back. Koala sampler Loopy Pro, Drambo, AUM and anything by Igor Vasiliev are essential on the iPad. It is a good device for more experimental application but again the samples or stems are finalised in Bitwig. The DAW is just too powerful and fully featured to not take advantage of. Are visuals are very important to our live presentations. We also use LumaFusion on the iPad for editing video, alongside Resolume on the pc. Resolume has a deck of clips for each track that are manually mixed onstage


Is there one piece of gear you wish you still had that you sold or broke?


John Whybrew: Maybe the Roland MC-303 which we gave to a friend, but only to re-sell it. Everything else we owned has been completely superseded and it would only have marginal historical value to our music creation process. Our favourite pieces of older gear were probably the Roland MC-202, TB-303, Moog Rogue and Akai S1000HD but in todays terms sampling has changed beyond all recognition and software synthesisers are far more powerful and flexible.


The Solar Enemy releases were very underrated. They seemed to have picked up from where Psycho-Bed Saves The World left off. I think it had a pretty distinct sound that might be attractive to some new listeners today. Are there any plans of reissuing Dirty Vs Universe or any other material from that era?


John Whybrew: Not really as we never felt completely happy or engaged with these releases.


This will be your first time touring in the USA. We can’t wait for the Los Angeles gig on September 22nd with Stromkern and LA Industrial DJs. Why do you think it’s taken this long to come here?


John Whybrew: Certain circumstances have prevented us in the past, but we are now able to commit to the tour. As I mentioned earlier We are a little reluctant to tour but the offer on this occasion was to too good to turn down. Our ‘hybrid’ show will be packed with tracks, which we are keeping shorter to maximise the content and impact. All our visuals are being prepared to combine UK/US sentiment as pc conceive it. Being our first visit to the US is very exciting and we are looking fwd to the whole package.


The tour schedule is really tight. If you had or have one day to visit any destination here (Tourist, nature, historical landmark, music venue) where would it be?


John Whybrew: I have been lucky enough to have been to America with my work (SF, Atlanta, NY, Chicago, Dallas, Florida, New Orleans) And enjoyed all these visits. But visiting with PC is truly special and we are working hard on the audio and visuals to ensure we put on a good show. We are shortening our tracks slightly to ensure we can get in as many songs as possible. One thing we can guarantee is a barrage of pure hybrid electronics. It’s really hard to pin down one destination but neither Dean nor I have been to LA and we are certainly looking forward to that. LA just seems one of those places on the planet that must be visited