In a time of intentional flubs and digitally rendered crap hole recordings, London's Hygiene seem to be the real deal as far as a proper punk band goes… at least in my book. The four seven inches they have fed to the world thus far have been nothing short of excellent. It's like they suck in the sounds from many of their country's musical geniuses from the past 30 years and then spew them out into their own relevant sonic language. From the legitimate boredom sound of their Town Centre EP to their lovingly fucked cover of the Human League's "Things That Dreams Are Made Of" to their recent twanged-out 60s thug punk sounding EP, Recruitment, these guys prove punk may not be dead yet, but they can certainly maul it pretty badly if they try.
Vice: Firstly, is your real name Nathaniel Weiner? I was looking at the back of the Recruitment 7" thinking you all had made up names. I mean… Guy Butterworth? Richard Lewis? Sorry, but they're kind of funny names…
Nathanial Weiner (vocals): Sadly, these are our real names. For the record, mine is pronounced "whiner" rather than "wiener." On the first 7" I came up with punk names for everyone--Nat King Dole, Dick Turpentine, Guy L. Less, Pat C. Bedsit--but they didn't take and no one uses their monikers except for me. As I copied the layout for the Town Centre EP from Ruefrex's One By One EP, I decided to copy the way that Ruefrex listed their real names. I found this attempt at professionalism endearing.
Pat Daintith (drums): Richard Lewis is a fairly standard name, surely? My surname is obscure and constantly misspelled--only people in Lancashire seem to have it. But we could have a new nom de plume for each release; Patty Bourgeois, Rikki Loose, Guy Du Bored, Natty Narwhal...
Richard Lewis (bass): I should have called myself Toby LaRone
Nathanial Weiner: Our Richard Lewis is not to be confused with the Jewish-American comedian who stars in the movie Once Upon a Crime.
Give me the basics on how Hygiene formed, how you knew each other, what year it was, blah blah blah…
Nathanial Weiner: I suppose it all came about because Richard and I used to be flatmates. I met him a few years earlier at a fancy dress party where he was dressed as an SS Officer--I knew immediately that we were going to be friends. One day, while sitting around the flat listening to some punk obscurities compilation or other, we reflected upon the sheer volume of great punk bands produced in the late 70s following the Bill Grundy Show incident. If all these teenage bands, out in the provinces with little musical ability or experience could be remembered for producing a handful of great songs, why couldn't we? Of course it turned out to be a lot harder than it sounded. After a number of abortive starts with various guitar players, we found Guy through a "guitarist wanted" advert. He brought his own drummer with him, so in a way it was a merging of two non-bands. Said drummer was a Spanish squatter who spoke very little English and would frequently disappear for months on end. We didn't get very far with that line-up. It was only after I got Pat drunk and convinced him to play drums for us that things got off the ground. I had gotten to know Pat a year beforehand when he was temping at the non-departmental public body where I work. I had struck up a conversation with him in the office kitchen while making a cup of tea; it was casual Friday and he was wearing a Battalions of Saints t-shirt.
You recently got off a small tour with the Shitty Limits if I am correct. How'd that go?
Guy Butterworth (guitar): Shitty Limits are youthful and dynamic go-getting individuals with a sense of where they're going. I'm still unsure as to why they like to take us along with them, but I think it's probably because we are more popular with the ladies than they are.
Pat Daintith: What Ric Ocasek was to Bad Brains, The Shitty Limits are to us. They've sorted out gigs, provided our equipment, put out our records--thanks, chaps! Both tours--we did one in January 2009 and again in January 2011--were fun. We enjoyed all the gigs except perhaps Lancaster, where the audience smelled of corned beef and virginity.
Nathanial Weiner: The highlight of the tour for me wasn't particularly rock'n'roll--it was the long detour that we took through the Yorkshire Dales. We had planned to go for a quick ramble, but as we didn't factor in how narrow the country lanes were, it took longer than we expected and by the time we arrived it was too dark for any rambling. We still enjoyed a very scenic drive and got to stop off in the picturesque village of Hawes for pies and real ale. Another tour highlight was when Richard delayed the Shitty Limits set in Liverpool because he had an insatiable urge to visit a snooker club and disappeared with Tim Limits' drum key.
How active are Hygiene? Do you play out often? What's the reaction?
Richard Lewis: Hygiene should be more active but we've all got jobs; civil service and administrative roles, which get in the way. Reaction at gigs ranges from antipathy to contempt but we're often on the same bill as boring hardcore bands, which isn't ideal. We do get some encouragement though, from the better dressed punters. The Shitty Limits are Hygiene's best friends. They sort of took us under their wing over the last couple years. Tim and I go and watch football in Reading, and the bass player Tom now lives with Nat.
Nathaniel Weiner: We've also shared a few bills with our friends Black Mamba Beat and the Sceptres.
Pat Daintith: We barely rehearse and gig rarely. We are a pretty awful live band most of the time. Stick to the records.
Nathanial Weiner: London punk impresario Paco Mus has described us as "the most boring band he's ever seen", and this is the man who's releasing our LP!
Let's talk about Hygiene's "sound," shall we? We hear a lot of words bandied about like "DIY," "Messthetics," "an Oi! band fronted by Mark E Smith"… what do YOU guys think the band sounds like? Do you agree with any of those descriptions?
Nathaniel Weiner: They're not entirely accurate, but not too far off the mark either. When I think of Messthetics, I think of the more avant-garde bedroom stuff, sixth formers who've just discovered existentialism and keyboards. The Pheromoans are a much better contemporary representative of that sound than we are. Richard and I originally set out to be what I would refer to as "third-tier '78 punk," the more straight-forward raw punk sound that your hear on compilation series like Bloodstains Across the UK and England Belongs to Me. Guy brought slightly loftier musical ambitions to the table, leading to our developing a more "post" punk sound. Everyone in Hygiene has a different take on it, but personally, I think we sound like the post-punk bands from before that scene got diluted by disco beats and major label production. Richard, Pat and I do love a bit of Oi!, but we try to suppress our inner skinheads. We once attempted to cover "Stormtroopers in Sta-Prest" by the Last Resort, but Guy was having none of that. As for "DIY," that's a pretty broad term, but if it means Hornsey at War and the Now, then I can live with that. Plus it gives us an excuse for incompetence.
Guy Butterworth: I've never heard a Messthetics comp, and have no idea at all about half the bands that we are compared to. We have shared interests musically, but I don't believe we've ever set out to make a song based on what someone else has done before. I never find it easy to describe the music we make to other people--it's a struggle.
Richard Lewis: To be honest I've always liked the way JJ Burnel's bass sounds with The Stranglers. Most of my influences are fairly home-grown to be honest. I'm sure by listening you'll get an idea of what we do, what kind of surroundings we have, what style of brogues we favor.
Pat Daintith: When Nat first asked me if I wanted to drum for the band--we didn't have a name then--the band covered The Kids & The Victims (the Australian one), though as we started writing songs other influences started coming to the foreground--Wire, The Fall, Crisis, Warsaw, Television Personalities et al. That said, I don't remember ever purposely trying to do this. On my part I try and keep the drumming as rudimentary as possible, taking my cues from the likes of Bob Bennett of The Sonics and whoever the drummers were in The Glitter Band.
What area of London do you live? Is it a hipster haven? If I came in there with my floppy jeans and overweight-ness, would I be laughed out? Would you guys stand up for me?
Nathaniel Weiner: Guy probably lives closest to the hipster haven, but while his area is being increasingly populated by "artists," it is also full of Key Workers and Irish Gypsies. Pat's neighborhood is full of crusties and aging pop-punks, while Richard and I live in North London's hub, RAWK'n'roll. You'd be scoffed at because you don't have a Social Distortion patch, flame tattoos, or a quiff. I'd back you up, but not if it was one of the ex-Nazi rockabillies having a go at you, as they could probably have me. If we were to go down Brick Lane and some Barbour jacket, massive turn-ups and no-socks type scoffed at you, then I'd be much more likely to stand up for you. You should also bear in mind that while Hygiene wouldn't laugh at your clothes, we might make snide remarks behind your back or try to take you shopping. Being overweight is fine by us, as long as you look like Buster Bloodvessel.
Pat Daintith: I'm the only one who lives in South London (Deptford) so the rest of the band are posers, quite frankly. My locale does have a reasonably good musical heritage--Alternative TV, Test Department, The Homosexuals, This Heat etc.--but these days it's mostly anarcho dub punk or some other abomination. The London writer Peter Ackroyd has often commented on how some areas in the capital retain certain characteristics--a sort of "psychic residue"--over centuries, regardless of other societal changes surrounding it. Now, while I find this view a bit conservative and metaphysical, Ackroyd clearly has a point, as fashions have come and gone but Deptford and New Cross always retain a contingent of Citizen Fish-listening, day-glo dreadlocked crusties.
Does Hygiene have anything to "say"? Is there a message in your madness?
Nathaniel Weiner: We are profoundly dissatisfied with pretty much everything but we can't articulate why, and are unable to offer any viable alternative.
Take us through a normal Hygiene recording session. Do you have a specific place you record? Are there any rituals that happen prior to or during the recording?
Guy Butterworth: Hygiene material is recorded in a nicer rehearsal studio than the one we usually practice in--once we've found someone who wants to put out one of our records. I use state-of-the-art circa 2005 budget recording equipment, and we record each song one track at a time, because we like everything to be just perfect. Mixing is usually a process of trial and error once we've recorded the songs, until I find a mix that sounds about right through headphones in my lounge, or I can't stand listening to the songs any more. Rituals include going to the shop, looking bored, and becoming increasingly drunk and belligerent.
Nathaniel Weiner: We capture the essence of DIY by recording our mistakes and not knowing how to use the recording equipment properly.
Pat Daintith: We normally record in Stoke Newington. The only ritual I have is eating a bagel or two from The Bagel House. Maybe a Twix as well.
What are the future plans of Hygiene? Recording-wise…touring-wise…all that.
Nathaniel Weiner: We recorded an LP last spring which, after a bit of drama, is now coming out on La Vida Es Un Mus.
Richard Lewis: Having played England, Scotland, and Wales, we really ought to get over to Northern Ireland to complete all the constituent nations of the UK. But really our ambition is to get onto North America one day. What with the Toronto connections it wouldn't be too hard to sort out. Playing France would be good too, as we could do it as a weekender. You can still get some cheap booze deals in Calais. We also have another single in the pipeline which we're working on right now. Themed around mild autism.
Pat Daintith: We also have a Christmas 7" planned, which will be recorded in spring for maximum festive vibes.
Finally, can you explain the majesty of Phil Oakey in just a few words?
PD: Aside from his collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, in my opinion Oakley's career highlight was starring in The Weekenders, a rarely seen 1992 one-off sitcom by Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, in which Oakley sells them some meat at a meat festival.
TONY RETTMANBelow is the show in question. Oakey shows up at 7:20.
Hygiene - Recruitment Consultant