A Dystopian Place – An Interview with Oliver Ho as Broken English Club

Oliver Ho’s impact in the world of techno has hardly been a subtle one. Since his ferocious debut in the ‘96 for Blueprint, he’s been cutting an individual path through the genre, one that doesn’t compromise and feeds off some primeval energy buried deep within his listeners. Oliver Ho’s resolute sound is not something that could merely be contained in a neat little package for the nascent music fan, but something that establishes itself prominently amongst the more adventurous and discontent Techno fan. Something of a clandestine favourite amongst this music’s more provocative supporter, Oliver Ho’s music is not something for the part-time connoisseur.

Following something of a perceived hiatus in 2005 from recorded music, Oliver Ho returned in 2014 as Broken English Club with an EP for Jealous God, and a split EP for Citytrax alongside the like-minded spirit, Silent Servant. It established a new era for Ho and also preceded the return of his eponymous alias for his spiritual home Blueprint this year, calling in a renewed creative period for the artist. As Broken English club he’s taken on the industrialised aesthetic of Techno while his new EP for Blueprint show’s he’s not wavered from his uncompromising brand of club-Techno.

Accompanying this new era of creativity for the London artist is a new label, Death and Leisure, with a debut that features Broken English Club and Zov Zov, another recent edition to Ho’s creative output he shares with Tom Gillard (aka ESQ). Where Broken English Club imposes, Zov Zov shows some restraint, while both projects push at known conventions in favour of a new aesthetic. Zov Zov’s industrialised ambience of a future despotic world and Broken English Club’s dystopian club music, are two different sides of the same coin, a coin moulded from the artistry of one individual, Oliver Ho. Together all these elements lend a certain flavour to the newly established Death and Leisure, and it’s through this proceeding Q&A with Ho that we try and unpick the threads that hold it all together.

Hi Oliver, I suppose the most pertinent question would be to ask you how did Broken English Club evolve out of what was to be an extended hiatus for Oliver Ho?

I have never stopped making music, and so the idea of a hiatus doesn’t make sense to me. I have chosen to make music under many different names, and been interested in fusing together lots of ideas. Broken English Club was the result of a lot of things that I explored with the Raudive project, but pushed into a harder and darker direction. It felt like a place I wanted to explore in a lot of detail, and so it required a proper name. I find that when I use a name for a set of ideas, it gives the place a character and almost a physical presence. There are a lot of different things that went into the creation of BEC, a lot of it was my love of very English type of electronic music like TG and Cabaret Voltaire, but it was also a fascination with a type of place described in literature, especially in the books of JG Ballard.

The name, Broken English Club is kind of a Ballardian realisation today of the future of clubbing in the UK, especially based around recent events. Do you care to weigh in on the current state of affairs in club culture, especially in the UK?

The name has nothing to do with the UK club scene, but you could make a connection if you wanted, if that made sense to you. I have always thought the UK club scene was healthy and diverse; there’s a lot of difficulty in parts of London with venues and the politics, but people are still going out and wanting to experience music. Things are also more open to stranger music now; people have loosened up and are up for pushing things into heavier and stranger directions, a lot of that is because there is a lot of crossover between Techno, Industrial and Noise now; there wasn’t so much of that before.

Would you say the music you’ve created around that moniker is in defiance of strict parameters club-music has placed on electronic music that’s led to something of a stalemate in some clubs, or I’m just reading way too much into this?

Yes, in a way it is certainly a part of what I’m doing with the project. Broken English Club exists at an intersection of ideas, part of that is club Techno, but part of that is Noise and Industrial music. There is certainly a lot of boring small-minded music and attitudes in dance music culture, and that has no interest to me. What I want to explore are the grey areas that are at the edges of Techno, where it bleeds into other things, where it’s harder to define as a single thing. I am only interested in music that is powerful, and that can come in many different forms, and it can exist in its own world, and doesn’t have to conform to an idea.

The label Death and Leisure has now been launched with Broken English Club heading the charge alongside another newly established moniker Zov Zov. Why the label? 

The label is a way for me to explore a lot of things that aren’t possible, with other labels. I can push my own, more personal ideas. Certainly with Zov Zov, it needs to be presented in the right way, and it’s important for me to have control over that. I want to do a lot of things, like incorporate visual art and film into the label. I already have postcards available and I’m in the process of commissioning a video. These things are more possible to tie together if there is a label. It can all come together, which is a more coherent way to present things.

And where does Zov Zov filter into all of this?

It’s a project I’ve been working on with Tommy Gillard for ten years. It’s always been a thing we do, but we have only released 1 record during that time. We have recorded many, many hours of music, but it’s always been more of a personal process that didn’t need to be shared. But now we want to put it out into the world, it’s time for that. A lot of different ideas go into Zov Zov, and its far more abstract than anything else I do. It’s more about creating music that operates more like sound, more like something a lot more basic and visceral. We want it to feel like the music isn’t made, but rather flows out of the earth like lava, like its something that is elemental.

Zov Zov and Broken English Club bring two very different approaches to Death and Leisure’s debut, but yet there’s a sound that underpins those two projects. How would you describe that sound?

Yes, there is a link to both projects, and that is an approach to texture, and also a desire to paint a type of world. I think both projects have a feeling of natural and organic sound mixing with electronic sound, and the way those two things interact is very much the vision of the label and what I want to explore.

While Zov Zov relies more on atmosphere, Broken English Club is still beat orientated, and yet both projects see you moving further and further away from what you’ve established as Oliver Ho. What does this say of the direction your heading to with your music?

I guess it reflects where I want to go, but it all relates to everything I’ve done before. I see it all as one long process rather than separate events. I’ve always been into creating club music, and always wanted to balance that out with abstract stuff too, especially with my old label, “light and dark”. That illustrates my personality very well, the duality of music, functionality and formlessness.

You have just released an Oliver Ho EP on Blueprint, which is a bit closer to the roots of your music, but still quite different from something like Mutate & Survive for instance. How has your music evolved since in general?

During the Meta label years I was obsessed with creating a dense tribal sound, something that used a lot of vocals too. I loved the idea that when a human voice gets mutated and we loose the linguistic part of it, that the more animal parts of our brains get activated; that we still know it is a voice even when we can’t tell what word is being said. That was a big thing for me in those years. Also using a lot of percussion, a very layered sound. I think now, I am more interested in a more empty sound, a very sparse sound, but a heaviness in that empty sound too. A sound that’s less obvious club music too, that has more loose, greyer edges.

Where do you see the label and your various artistic guises taking you into the future and is there any one that you feel pretty close to at the moment and want to develop further?

All the projects I am doing are important, they all evolve organically, so I have to allow them to take control and lead me wherever they want to go.

Will Death and Leisure become to exclusive vehicle for these two projects and do you have anything planned for the label that you’d like to share now?

The third release will be from a friends project called YEARS OF DENIAL, they have this amazing sound with very dense electronics and layered female vocals; its really powerful and moving. I want to release music that all has a certain vision to it.