Published on September 21st, 2014 | by Dylan Caulfield0
Filthy Pedro on 10 years of British Antifolk
Filthy Pedro, who started up the British Antifolk movement with the Antifolk UK Festivals, talks about the beginning of the scene and reaching 10 years of Antifolk UK.
Dylan: How the fuck are you?
Filthy Pedro: Alright thanks.
Dylan: So… what made you start up Antifolk in the UK? What the hell were you thinking?!
Pedro: Hmm, well it followed a trip to the Sidewalk [Café] in New York. I’d been into Antifolk music for a while, and my own stuff was that kind of style. And then I visited NY on holiday in 2003, and wanted to visit the Sidewalk. I popped in with a New Yorker mate of mine, and took a look on a Monday afternoon. Lach was there and came and said hello, and told me to come down to the Antihoot that night and play. I ended up on at about midnight, and loved the atmosphere and the music.
Dylan: Just backing up for a sec.. You say you were into ‘antifolk’ music. Who exactly? And how did you hear about it? It’s not exactly a well-known genre
Filthy Pedro: Well, that started with early Beck. I got hold of a copy of “Steroepathtic Soulmanure” soon after Beck’s “Loser” single came out. I loved the lo-fi, humour and lyrics of the album. I then read somewhere that it was an ‘Antifolk’ album. Later, the Moldy Peaches came along. I really enjoyed their album, and again heard it coined as ‘Antifolk’. I’d heard two great albums with a similar sound I loved, and they were both called antifolk. My own song-writing style was similar and so the idea that there was a name and scene for this type of music got my interest.
Anyway, when I came back from New York, I thought I’d see if there were any British antifolk style artists around, and I set up antifolk.co.uk (now merged with antifolk.com) and aimed to put on an antifolk night for British acts.
Dylan: Were there any British antifolk style artists around?
Filthy Pedro: Yeah, some contacted me via the website, and I trawled around open mics in London and met quite a few.
Dylan: Where were the open mics? What was the focal point back then?
Filthy Pedro: I tried a few open mics out, including the “Up All Night” one in a pub at Cambridge Circus [in London] – The Spice of Life. Lach launched a night there on a visit to the UK.
I first saw Tom Mayne of David Cronenberg’s Wife play there. We later joined up to run the antifolk nights and host some radio shows on [London local radio station] ResonanceFM. I also first met Tim Tomlinson there. He’s a kind of outsider folk artist with more than his fair share of mental issues. Years later he joined my band.
There was also Joe ‘Buzfuz’ Murphy’s “Blang” night. Joe ran these monthly Blang nights that often hosted US antifolk artists. It wasn’t just an antifolk night, he had all kinds of stuff on, but it was a regular place for US antifolk acts to play when they came to London.
Joe booked acts he liked, not necessarily ones that would bring a crowd. Quite a few of us that became the AFUK (Antifolk UK) scene would go, and we played some of our earliest gigs there. Blang helped sow the seeds of a homegrown movement.
Dylan: I love Tim’s track on the [UK Antifolk] ‘Up The Anti’ compilation…
Filthy Pedro: Yea, Tim’s great. Really, he’s a troubled folk artist but he fitted right into antifolk scene.
Dylan: Was ‘Blang’ at The 12 Bar?
Filthy Pedro: Yea, the 12 Bar Club in Soho. Great old venue.
Dylan: So what made you do your own night?
Filthy Pedro: Well, there wasn’t anything aimed at British Antifolk artists going on, and I wanted to start something. After about 8 months, I’d met enough British antifolk artists to put a night on. So I created the Antifolk UK festivals – seasonal affairs with lots of acts crammed onto the bill. Tom Mayne joined forces with me to run them, starting with the first one, and we’ve been doing them ever since.
Dylan: What was the first one like? Was this at the 12 bar?
Filthy Pedro: No, we started at the Buffalo Bar in Islington. I’d played there a few times and got speaking to the manager about putting something on. It’s a nice, cellar like venue. Many of the acts who played that first festival became the core of the Antifolk UK scene. That first one had Myself, David Cronenberg’s Wife, Milk Kan, JJ Crash, Spinmaster Plantpot and the Bobby McGees. We all became regulars.
Dylan: So why the move to the 12 bar?
Filthy Pedro: We wanted something more central, a bit bigger and on better night of the week. The 12 Bar is in a great location, smack in the centre of London. It’s very old and a bit grimy, but it has a great atmosphere. It used to be a forge, and legend has it that Dick Turpin brought his horse there.
They also offered us a Saturday night, and when started getting more of a following and selling out they gave us the Friday too. We make a whole weekend of it.
Dylan: Looking at past lineups, you were doing Fridays and Saturdays 4 times of year at the peak.
Filthy Pedro: Yea, they became these intense Friday and Saturday affairs with 20+ acts and a lot of debauchery. It was pretty gruelling, starting at 7 and the 12 Bar didn’t close until 4am.
Dylan: I bet it gave the soundguys a nervous breakdown…
Filthy Pedro: Some of them used to dread doing the festivals, others enjoyed the vibe…
At their peak they were rammed. I can remember one getting ‘gig of the weekend’ in the Metro paper, and being sold out within an hour.
Dylan: And how about your own music? You started solo but then formed a band?
Filthy Pedro: Yes. I started out playing solo. I thought it would be much less hassle than having a band and rehearsing etc. I’ve always had full on day jobs, and so I don’t have loads of free time.
But after a couple of years solo, I teamed up with Thee (formerly Intolerable) Kidd, a great multi-instrumentalist who’s played in a lot of the bands in the scene as well as doing his own stuff. Later Disco Stu, the drummer from DCW [David Cronenberg’s Wife] joined as well.
Dylan: Kidd’s music is some of my favourite…
Filthy Pedro: Yea, he’s great. He’s a pretty unique person, very talented and a lovely fella.
Dylan: And then Medders and Tim [Tomlinson] joined? That seems like a bit of a crazy lineup from what I’ve heard about Medders…
Filthy Pedro: Yea, Kidd eventually left and so I thought it would be interesting to create a line-up of crazy musicians. Medders, a founding member of Milk Kan, joined on bass.
Medders is a legend for his antics and easily the most hedonistic person I’ve ever met. He’s a got a few challenges in his life but he’s such a sweet bloke. We should get an interview with him on this site.
Tim Tomlinson joined on various instruments and Disco Stu sometimes played. It was an interesting live line-up. Kidd used to join us sometimes [after he left], and we also got an Opera singer on board – Penny O. It was Filthy Pedro & the Carthaginians, after my favourite ancient civilization.
Dylan: That’s some line-up!
Filthy Pedro: Yes, it was nuts really. A lot of the time it descended into chaos, but I think it created a unique and memorable atmosphere.
I think we cared much less than most bands about a lot of the usual things. The main thing was to have fun.
I could have worked with better musicians, and I tried some out, but they often took things too seriously. I can remember a fella I tried out who was a great drummer. He told me that he’d love to join but Medders, the bass player would have to go as he wasn’t good enough. Obviously I kept Medders and turned him down.
I’ve seen bands not really enjoy themselves as they see it as a means to an end rather than the fun and privilege it should be. If you want to make money, I wouldn’t recommend music. People don’t realise that you can make more money as a consultant in a few days then you can from a top ten hit in the Indie chart.
Dylan: So you would say antifolk isn’t about technical expertise?
Filthy Pedro: No. Don’t get me wrong, it helps and there are some great musicians in the movement, but how often do you see boring acts who are technically great?
On the other hand there are loads of great musicians who write great songs and perform well that have dodgy voices and just hit a few chords. People like Dennis Scunt. I can remember him telling me how some bloke got annoyed with him at an open mic after the crowd enjoyed his set so much. The other bloke was saying it wasn’t right as he was so much better technically, but his song was much more boring than Dennis.
For me, antifolk is more about writing interesting songs and less about polish.
Dylan: What would you say are they main differences between US and UK/London antifolk?
Filthy Pedro: Hmm. I think the UK scene was more influenced by the antifolk that crossed over. The Moldy Peaches are popular amongst a lot of the acts.
Dylan: So the US class of 2000 was a big influence?
Filthy Pedro: Yea, that Antifolk Vol 1. compilation was popular here. There are some great tracks on that like “Drinking Beer with Mom”, great acts like Brer Brian, Turner Cody, Grey Revell, Kimya Dawson, Diane Cluck and Jeff lewis. Thomas Truax was also popular amongst the first wave here. But the UK scene was more dance influenced as well, in antifolk as well as with other genres. There was certainly more hedonism as well amongst that first wave of British antifolk.
Dylan: Lach may disagree with that! The early years at The Fort seemed pretty wild…
Filthy Pedro: They sounded it. It’s more of a general comparison between the two scenes at the time. Lach got a load of us to come over and play one of the New York festivals, and I think some people thought we were alcoholics. We were partying a bit too hard.
Dylan: So this was about 2005? The UK artists invaded the US fest? Who was there? And what was it like?
Filthy Pedro: Myself, DCW, Milk Kan, JJ Crash and Soraya [Allen] came over. Jinx Lennon was also over from Ireland. It was great fun.
As well as the Sidewalk, we hooked up with the Artstars scene at the Bowery. Met some great people and had some corking nights. I remember [Milk Kan’s] Jimmy Blade saving me from a kicking from a Polish sailor after we got thrown out of a nightclub and into a snowy Williamsburg at 4am for being half dressed.
Dylan: You moved to Sheffield a few years back. What’s that been like? Is there a scene in Sheffield?
Filthy Pedro: We had kids, and I wanted to escape the Rat Race. So we traded a flat in London for a nice house in Sheffield.
There isn’t much of an antifolk scene here though. I’ve put on a festival here and played a few open mics, but it’s much quieter. I’m still much more involved in the London scene than Sheffield. It’s not far on the train, just a couple of hours.
Dylan: Your preoccupations in your songs seems to be history, sex and hedonism. Have you had to rein in the hedonism since the kids and the move?
Filthy Pedro: Yes. I guess my songs reflect what I’m interested in at the time. My latest songs have less hedonism now I’m a dad. I’m really interested in history though, so that lends itself to my songs.
Dylan: Your most famous song “Rock ‘n’ Roll Points” ended up on a Channel 4 music show – how did that happen?
Filthy Pedro: [BBC DJ and presenter] Lauren Laverine picked up on that song, and started using the Rock’n’Roll Points song and concept on her radio show. She wanted to use it on Channel 4’s new flagship music show, Transmission. So they got me to act for the day for a montage clip, and used the song before they gave guests a Rock’n’Roll points quiz each week. I made this Rock’n’Roll points test on my website, and then they rewrote it for the guests. Pete Docherty and the infamous Jimmy Saville took the test. They ditched it after 7 weeks though!
Dylan: What did Saville score? I dread to think…
Filthy Pedro: I can’t remember now. I didn’t actually end up watching it much.
Dylan: Who are some of your favourite bands/singers from the UK scene?
Filthy Pedro: There’s lots of great people, it’s hard to pick a few out. At the core of the scene when it all first started were Milk Kan, David Cronenberg’s Wife, JJ Crash, Thee Kidd and Sergeant Buzfuz, all great musicians who I still love and are great friends with.
The Brighton scene started up soon after London, and produced some talented people, like The Bobby McGees, Mertle, Larry Pickleman and Dennis Scunt. Others came along like Lucy Joplin and Paul Hawkins who fitted right in with the ethos and music.
Dylan: So Antifolk has been going for 10 years in London. What’s the future? Can you see it going another 10?
Filthy Pedro: I’m not sure. The scene probably peaked a few years back, and was starting to slow down by the time a lot of us actually got signed and had records coming out.
Dylan: Signed? To Sony? Universal?!
Filthy Pedro: No quite! Though Milk Kan got close with Sony. A lot of us signed with Blang, the London label run by Joe Murphy and JJ Crash. Jesus Factory picked up Paul Hawkins and Cherryade Records signed the McGees.
There are good acts coming through like Amy Yvonne Simpson and Depresstival, but we’ve slowed down the festivals a bit now. We have two a year instead of four – with specials from time to time – like the upcoming 10 Year Party in Camden. It’s hard to find the energy when you’ve got young kids and a business to run.
Dylan: Maybe the Pedro juniors will take it over?
Filthy Pedro: Maybe! In New York Lach really kept it going for years, and saw new waves coming though. It takes a lot of effort to keep a scene going like that.
Dylan: So what’s the plan with the 10 year party?
Filthy Pedro: We’ve hired the Camden Barfly for the 19th October for a ’10 years of British Antifolk’ special. We’re putting on as many artists as we can cram on and it’s an all dayer.
I wish we could get more on, but at least we’ve managed to cover all of Britain. We’ve got artists from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. Should be a good one.
Filthy Pedro’s documentary in search of a legandary inland Mermaid.