A purveyor of sonic distillation and delight GIT Award nominee TVAM gives Getintothis’ Mike Stanton the lowdown on his warping vision of near-future dystopia.
Wigan-based noise alchemist Joe Oxley aka TVAM creates music that is both alien and familiar. His skill is to infuse often heavy and experimental electronica with an organic and tangible feel. While the music can be challenging and at times slightly disorientating, the seam of nostalgia that runs through each track coupled with Joe’s instinct for production, melody and aesthetics gives the listener a roadmap to access the sometimes surreal and abstract compositions.
On stage, he plays guitar backed by loops and samples synchronised with a TV set displaying the visuals (played on VHS tape) he has designed and constructed. It is a remarkable experience and the sounds he produces veer from ambient drone to searing electronic pugilism.
The name as you may have suspected is inspired by the former breakfast TV show, something Oxley recalls from his very early childhood. Growing up in the late 80’s certainly informed his music and visual aesthetic:
“It’s always hard to name yourself whatever you do. It just seemed quite fitting, I wanted something that was overwhelmingly positive which is slightly at odds with what I do.” He continues, “I remember TV-am when I was probably six or something, right at the end of the 80’s. TVAM, the way I see it, is capturing that little piece of nostalgia where you don’t know enough about what you are taking in at the time, you have it in your mind, you don’t have a full understanding of it the way you would now.” Oh yes, the way nostalgia can warp your memories, it is often a flickering television in the corner, a half-remembered theme tune or comedy sketch.
It’s an exciting and busy period for Joe as he embarks on live dates and settles into becoming a father for the first time. TVAM is still new, still fresh and the lifespan so far can be measured, much like a baby, in months.
“I’ve been doing TVAM since, I think, late 2014”, Oxley says, “In the summer of 2014 I started putting things together; I had a few songs that were waiting for somewhere to go and then I worked on the videos and did my first gig October 2014.”
Joe Oxley is quietly spoken and intelligent. His enthusiasm for the music is apparent and he talks with passion and focus, something that informs his compositions. Once TVAM was established he essentially burst onto the live scene fully-formed; music, visuals and stage set-up were all there from the off.
“The first gig I did was in a really small studio with about 30 people crammed in and that really worked. It was really interesting in that first one, having the video and this sense of it’s not really like a rock performance, it’s not a standard gig, it feels more like a presentation. And in some cases people take it more like an art piece. This stops it being too rock ‘n’ roll.”
Being too rock and roll is something TVAM could never be accused of. He exists outside of the musical norm, his shows are more like installation pieces, more towards performance art. Unusually his stage show hasn’t altered from the very first one. The whole package has been there from the beginning, the TV and VHS player on a wheelie stand, the warping audio and accompanying visuals. Sound and visuals are both integral to the overall performance.
“I’ve not done TVAM without both elements. I do see that it is both. It isn’t something to split up really. It needs both sides of it I think. I find that my attention can wane pretty quickly with a solo artist and I, as an audience member, would like to watch artists that are doing something more interesting than just [being]up there playing an instrument. That’s not to knock that but I think I know myself I end up getting bored by it you know, so that’s another reason why I thought I wanted it to be something more.”
His live show is quite unique. It’s just Oxley, an old television and VHS player on top of a vintage TV stand. He weaves dense and immersive sound sculptures to match the vivid and glitch-twitching visuals. This analogue approach lends a vintage sound to the set; it is incredibly organic. “I feel more comfortable playing guitar live,” he says, “there’s something more instant about it and that’s the way I feel about building the backing tracks and the bits and pieces around it, using real old analogue gear. So yeah, it’s an old CRT TV (it was my old TV for a good long while) and VHS cassette player. I managed to get myself an old UNICOL school TV stand to put it on as well because, you know, it’s got to look the part.”
Not only does he look the part but he sounds it as well. TVAM’s sound defies simple categorisation. Each of his songs seems to have a distinct style while retaining an undeniable signature sound. For example, No Explanations is psychedelic 60’s surf rock with West Coast melodic vocals. We Light Fires is electronic grinding guitar with low level spacey vocals in a similar vein to Echo and the Bunnymen, firmly rooted low-in-the-mix. Migrate Your Mind has a dirty glam-style rock riff that is jagged and ragged kicking around washed synths.
Porsche Majeure, perhaps his most high-profile release to date, has a retro 80’s sound, evoking the slow motion funk and chillwave of Com Truise. Oxley’s guitar is central to the track, a lightning bolt of scorched chords acting as the spine of the tune; it is a kaleidoscope of warped guitar, growling synths and fizzing layers of noise and static. His voice is so deep in the mix it is sometimes difficult to distinguish from the layers of sound and production.
“Porsche Majeure was me thinking: I really wish I could make the best car advert ever. How would I do that? It was literally just that, this is an advert, this is me putting together something that totally fits, you know, almost like a perceived market, a perceived demographic. And I think that’s really interesting, that was really fun, I started to think about it in a totally different way. Obviously you naturally come up with things around it but that central idea sort of stuck.”
Being a solo artist has its advantages especially when it comes to pushing the boundaries of creativity as Oxley does. “I found it’s a lot easier to do such big genre shifts as a solo artist than it is in a band. There’s the case that you’re only arguing with yourself so if I make a decision I can do it, but when you have a band together there are a lot of people there, there’re more people to get onto your side, to pass an argument through or get something cleared. I loved being in a band and playing with other people but it’s a very different experience on the creative side to just simply playing and seeing what comes from that. It gives a different approach and when you have that approach it doesn’t tend to come from these strange angles that you do on your own, or that’s my experience, that’s how it’s going to come from me.”
Each track is distinct yet complimentary, like pieces of a larger puzzle or clues to a higher purpose. Where many other bands or artists are content to pick a sound and run with it, Oxley subverts and experiments while retaining something that is undeniably TVAM.
“I think when you have certain sounds and certain instruments that you use in the setup, it’s a good idea to test them to their extremes,” says Oxley,” there are big differences between what my influences are guitar-wise to what I like synth-wise or electronica-wise.”
Oxley continues, “Guitar-wise the bands I’ve really been interested in are Devo or Man Or Astro-Man? you know, bands that are a bit off-kilter, a bit spiky and a bit punky. TVAM is almost halfway between Thee Oh Sees, Suicide and Big Black, that kind of thing. There’s melody there but there’s also a real harshness, I think, that really sits well with the videos and the other things that I’m doing. I think the other instruments I use take well to having that kind of guitar sound I use. I’ve got an old Roland SH-2 analogue synthesizer from the early 80s with really deep bass sounds.”
TVAM’s music is rooted in the past, it shimmers with nostalgia in the same way that Boards of Canada’s music links back to bygone times. Oxley’s skill is how he links these sounds together using cassette tape, a medium that is tangible, physical and archival.
“I like how certain other artists have taken that Boards of Canada thing their own way, I really love Black Moth Super Rainbow and Tobacco. And I like how a lot of what [Tobacco] does has a really good groove and feel to it. There are elements of that with how I approach drum sequencing and things like that, I like to have it so that I could start off playing a guitar part and instantly move to some sort of sequencer, play over it and then slowly piece it all and mix it together.
So what influences Joe Oxley? Bands he listens to will inevitably influence sounds or ideas. Bands like Suicide were dismantling rock and roll, reinterpreting it, putting it out there and asking questions of the audience. TVAM follows this ethos, there is nothing ‘standard’ or straight forward about his music or live performances.
“I feel like it’s really strange for me [to be]doing what I do and playing gigs with some great bands and some really interesting people.” He muses, “For a lot of these bands it’s a straightforward set up and way of putting what they do across. Rock ‘n’ roll hasn’t changed since the 50’s you know, the technology might do obviously, the influences do but the way it’s performed and put forward hasn’t and that was quite interesting, so me going back and re-evaluating what Suicide were doing is really cool. It’s important in some way because I think people just don’t think about it and consider it, I think that’s why when people complain, you know, they think music’s boring or things like that it’s because there aren’t as many people that do those things that ask the questions.”
The art and process of creation is just as important as the end product for Joe Oxley, he is a technician and a producer as much as being a musician. His attention to detail is incredible, creating an entire faux corporate brand for himself with the slogans, idents and commercial message. During his live shows, between songs, the TV displays short promotional videos akin to something out of Robocop or Total Recall, all tying in with his fictitious corporate aesthetic. This is exciting and immersive and enables Oxley to transcend the music he plays.
“There are times when I have created idents to break up the set, to allow it to flow nicely and bring songs that are perhaps a bit disparate together. It’s quite fun, all of a sudden it makes sense, there’s a context there. I think the people I’ve spoken to enjoy that ‘cos it’s almost like a palate cleanser, but it’s totally in keeping and allows me to do a short segment which is quite quick and easy to put together, it flows quite quickly, it’s been fun to do that.”
This is part of his desire to challenge the listener or consumer; rather than just let the experience wash over the audience, he challenges the concept of the passive consumer and shakes them awake.
Oxley uses this to great effect in his videos. “I think in some ways the idea of being a passive consumer is the starting point for a lot of the videos I put together. I love using advertising, I love using the sort of things where there’s a certain message, a certain reason why you know those videos were made and how you can sort of reinterpret them and use them in a new way, to put a different spin on it. I think that’s where it really becomes interesting; times have changed but they’ve also changed very little, the archivist in me kind of likes to find these clips, you know that’s really cool.”
Oxley sources the clips from anywhere but online, a real rarity these days. With clips galore available online it takes a dedicated eye for detail and buckets of inspiration to root out a video, to watch and then to use something off it.
“I may find some sort of charity shop video and it’s like ‘I have got to use this in some way’ you know, it has to go in. I use some analogue video processing stuff so I can treat things; it might be I just find a really cool clip that has to go in and I treat in a certain way and it will find its way in. In some sense I like the sort of idea that you can take different source points, different videos and different kind of ideas and put them together and they make sense, it isn’t just like here’s all the same things. It isn’t like here’s Porsche Majeure and its just crash stuff. It was interesting for me putting in those slow-moving, brooding advertising stuff as that helps to set the tone a bit more. It tends to be music first then finding the theme then the other things come into that.”
Certainly for the video for Porsche Majeure you can see the influence of JG Ballard‘s Crash. “JG Ballard is definitely a big influence on what I do.I think with Crash what’s really interesting in this over sexualisation of an object and the idea of that ties in with advertising, it always does. It’s really interesting for me to look at those adverts and use them in that way.”
Documentary maker Adam Curtis also casts a large shadow, especially in Oxley’s desire to allow the listener to partake in the musical experience, to actually move out of the passive state and become an active contributor, to use the information presented and explore it further, “Visually I love what Adam Curtis does and his use of archive footage.” Oxley says, “I think the best documentarians allow your mind to drift that little bit, where you start to investigate the topic and subject yourself, it isn’t taken in passively. Certainly using text in video was a source of influence, to see how that could be used. I have some songs where there aren’t lyrics but there are words; someone coined the phrase it’s like ‘psychic karaoke’, where there are no lyrics to speak of but people impress their ideas of how that should fall. If it’s a vocal melody taking shape in the mind it’s not something you’re hearing, it’s something you’re creating yourself and I like that; the sort of interesting things where people are taking more [out]of it than you could ever put into it yourself. It’s something they create themselves.”
There aren’t any remixes of TVAM‘s stuff out there yet but surely that isn’t far off. While there is a density and multi-layered dimension to each of his tracks there is space and scope for re-interpretation. Who would he like to have a go at remixing any of his tracks?
“That’s so difficult. I really do enjoy what Tobacco does and there is a similarity there in our approaches to that rough aesthetic it wouldn’t be sort of pushed as much. I like sort of classics like Andrew Weatherall, like Richard Norris from Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve, those kind of people who could put an interesting spin on it.”
Having played FestEVOL over the May Bank Holiday weekend and launched his latest single Gas & Air in April, it is intriguing to speculate as to who he would like to collaborate with?
“Doing TVAM, there are certain people who I would be interested in doing things with, I think. One of the bands I played with at the Gas & Air singles launch in Manchester was Jupiter-C and they’re quite interesting in their take on electronica and what they do with it. That could be quite interesting. I really like East India Youth and I think at some point there might be a chance of doing remixes or some sort of collaboration. I think that would be quite interesting. I think his approach is very clean, very sort of precise and I have sort of the opposite, so it will be quite interesting to see what comes between the two, you know. That’s the thing with collaborations it’s better as disparate the two artists can be. You don’t want it to sound like something you’ve done before. Both sides should be challenged in some ways to make it interesting.”
So what’s next for TVAM?
“I’m planning on putting together another release at the end of the Summer / Autumn. I’ve had a few labels contact me over handling some remixes this summer and I’m planning on finishing an album by the end of the year. No fixed home for these releases but there are a few options for me.”
TVAM is a fast-emerging act of originality and huge scope. Joe Oxley‘s vision is all-encompassing and goes beyond the mere concept of making music, he offers so much more and the rewards for the listener are obvious. His desire to challenge, to inform and to entertain ensures his music and appeal never fades, it offers up more with each listen and is an ultimately rewarding and satisfying experience.
Catch TVAM live and man, you really want to. You will find him in these places over the next couple of months:
14 LIVERPOOL Constellations
25 LONDON The Sebright Arms [supporting FEWS]
22 MANCHESTER Gullivers
As an exclusive for Getintothis we have the first airing of Cannibals, backing his latest single Gas & Air. Play loud:
The GIT Award 2016 take place at Constellations on May 14. Tickets are available here.