In the summertime, the fields hum like power stations. Visually, the saturated light creates a permanent intensity, and the heat creates shimmers in the near distance - hovering just above ground level like a finger smudge on a camera lens. The crickets and grasshoppers are hidden generators, buzzing like a thousand tiny clackers. With the audio-visual assault this provides, it's not hard to imagine where talk of earth-energy and so much hippie bullshit propagated.

In a shed near to these fields are three men, some circuit-bent toys, analogue synths, and the odd milk churn-cum-PA system. Hacker Farm sound every bit the urban highrise and chunderful pavements of grimy inner-city life - except they're not. They're rural poverty and boredom and stifling claustrophobia, and a lack of post-school prospects except following in familial footsteps - dole queue, pub, dead-end job.

The latest statistics on rural poverty are from 2010 - "14% of households in rural areas were below the poverty threshold before housing costs (17% after housing costs). In urban areas the proportion was 17% (24% after housing costs)." It's no stretch to say that our city-centric view of the UK and 'Phil and Kirsty, find me a huge fucking farmhouse' knowledge of the countryside is a huge barrier to understanding that poverty levels in those areas are almost as high as they are in the most depraved areas of London, Manchester, or Bristol.

I spoke to 33.33% of Hacker Farm, Kek-W, about making 'off-grid' music, rural gentrification, anger as a gendered construct, and far too much prog rock.


You were in Wire with Scott Walker on the cover...

Yeah that was pretty special I gotta say. I wouldn't say I grew up with Scott Walker... Some of my friends and I, including he guys in Hacker Farm, in the late 70s, we were really into Teardrop Explodes/Julian Cope and all that, and it was just the beginning of what I call charity shop culture back then. I remember Zoo records brought out 'The Fire Escape in the Sky'. It reintroduced Scott Walker to the Punk generation. We really liked that, and we used to go round charity shops and try and beat one another to buy a copy of Scott 4 for 50p or 20p or whatever... So yeah, it was like 'wow man, Scott Walker, Christ!' t created a huge sense of unreality.

Are you a fan of the Tilt/The Drift/Bish Bosch trio?

Less so, maybe. I know that's probably the wrong answer. I've got huge admiration for what he does - he ploughs his own furrow and I think that's fantastic. But, I must admit I prefer the stuff where it gets hazy - before he's into full on avant, and 'this is about what I say it's about' and all that. I really like that Night Flight album. The songs are more oblique and odd, and he's gone from being existential to moving towards the abstract. And Climate of Hunter, a lot of people slag it off because there's very 80s production on it, but I really like it because that's the point where he's stripping stuff down. He's not quite reached full abstraction, but I like that point where he's gone from being a 60s balladeer, but he's not the full on avant guy either. I like that blurredness.

His transitional period.

Yeah!

Was the Zoo Records stuff part of your musical 'coming of age'?

Er, no - it predates all that, me personally. Punk was a big thing for us, but in a weird way I prefer what came afterwards. But, really formative stuff for me is glam. Myself and Farmer Glitch were big Bolan, Bowie, Ronson fans - we love that stuff. It's fabulous. But I was really into a band called Amon Düül II. I absolutely adored them when I was about 15, and then I got into Can and a lot of other stuff. So yeah, pre-punk my formative stuff was glam, kraut, and that kind of thread of 'English eccentric rock', Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Henry Cow; the things that Virgin and Island records were spitting out. Despite what history books say now, it was an incredibly adventurous time for music. In some ways, punk put the stoppers on things.

So it's not all middle class anoraks going to ELP shows? That seems to be how that era is remembered.

I think there's been a lot of retro-engineering of the past. When they show documentaries on the 70s, they always show the same 45 seconds of stock footage - the winter of discontent, bin bags on the streets - then punk happened and all was good! It wasn't like that. The early to mid-70s was a very colourful and vibrant time. You had the point at which the fallout from the hippie era was going on. Yes, rock was elongating and becoming more progressive. But it was also getting stranger, there was stuff going on in England, France, Germany, Denmark, all sorts of odd stuff that prefigured punk. So it's almost like there's a party line - 'prog bad - punk rock good'. I love punk but there's some really, really great prog rock out there.

So, do you ever revisit your years of glam and prog worship for Hacker Farm? Would you sit with a beer in your shed and spin some old Yes records for inspiration?

Erm, I wouldn't say Yes filter into it. I know if Farmer Glitch was here he'd beat me around the head with a Cider bottle - he can't stand it. I must admit I hated Yes until a few years ago, and now I hear 'Close to the Edge' and think 'this is really good!' And then before you know it you're up shit creek with them.

Farmer Glitch hates all that stuff. I wouldn't say that's a direct influence. I don't sit there and go 'hey, let's try and jam out some weird chord progressions!' What I would say is, some unlikely things do feed in. We were doing a thing on local radio last week. Before we went on air we started talking about some stuff, and the DJ said 'I'm gonna play some Steve Reich later on in the show', and my ears picked up because I love all that stuff. I said that nobody asks us about this, but actually, there's quite a bit of that in Hacker Farm. We don't sound like that, obvious, but the idea of rhythms, pulses and loops, shifted in and out of time with one another so you get layers, and stuff isn't on the beat, it doesn't line up, it goes in and out of time and phase with itself - we do quite a bit of that. Not all the time, but it's in there.

Well I think about 'Grinch', the repetition of the beat, and I love it because it's proper body music. You end up doing a jolting movement to the change in tempo.

Yeah, it shifts. And it's what I would call 'off-grid' music. If you have a temporal grid on a sequencer program, it wouldn't adhere to stuff on the grid. It's going in and out of quantisation. And you're absolutely right - it kind of speaks to different parts of the body in different tempos and patterns. So rather than prog tracks being in 13/8, it's probably more like a weird cousin of Steve Reich but maybe 80s Electronic Body Music, so it's got that high-energy feel but it's warping as it goes, and your head and shoulders want to go one way at one speed and your hips want to go another way at a different speed and your legs are going 'Where's the 4/4? Where's the kick?' So you're doing this wibbly-wobbly thing. It's like an elastic dance.

So yeah, there are some odd influences feeding in there. Not prog necessarily, but maybe things that people wouldn't expect, the idea of grids of loops going in and out of time with each other... I think that's something Eno used to propagate years and years ago. You set up a system; it's like cybernetics. You set a series of events in action and let them move across each other, and find the most interesting transaction points. I think he's a boring old git these days to be honest, but he did touch on something there, and he probably got that from Philip Glass and John Cage, and Indeterminacy. But it's still a good rule to work by - set up systems or loops of sound or live stuff that rub against each other and slide and move in and out of time, and then find the bits where it gets interesting.

Somerset is mentioned heavily around you. Country living is marketed as this rural idyll - it's all pastoral with red-nosed farmers driving tractors to the pub, but it has an awful lot of poverty and unhappiness around it. Is that something that you look at a lot?

Yeah, it's something I notice. There's poverty everywhere, but people don't talk about it. They talk about urban depravation and urban rundown and, the stress and heavy manners of living in London or whatever. I get all that and I see it when I visit friends in London, but hardly anyone talks about it down here. My wife's a farmer's daughter, she lives three or four miles from here. You could walk there if you could be bothered, and it's down what they call 'The Marsh'. So you go down there to Hardington and you go to the Marsh and it's all farms - it really is quite secluded, even though you're only four or five miles away from a town. And you go down there and everything's broken down. There's just stuff lying around, there's shit everywhere, and what's happened is gentrification. So you've got my wife's family, dairy farmers for years. But of course, it's got harder and harder to make a living out of that, and it was never easy in the first place. So you've got farms around going bust, and who moves in? It's stud farms - horses. So there's a weird gentrification, where the wealthy move into that hole that's left.

Yeah, it's harsh down here. And I think you know what I'm talking about, with the little towns - your Streets and Crewekerns and Chards, they've got ferocious drug problems. Small South-Somerset towns that don't have any heavy industry; people leave school, what the fuck do they do? And some of these small towns have sink estates. You don't have to be in London or Bristol to have sink estates.

Is any of that reflected in Hacker Farm? It's very often ominous, and rarely gives an aura that could be described as 'pastel shades'.

Because a lot of it is jammed out live and edited, some of it's overdubbed and there are a lot of live jams, it just comes out as it is. And there's some stuff that hasn't come out that's maybe more psychedelic. The first album (Poundland), which was mainly just myself and Farmer Glitch finding our way, is more drone-based. We were still working out what the rules were. And then it started sounding more machine-like. We weren't sitting there trying to be grumpy, but we were listening to a lot of shortwave radio - and that was a lot of what the second album (UHF) is about - but there's also a lot of stuff that is 'nice'. We're doing this thing for Feral Recordings, a tape for them, and it's not soft, but it's a nicer sounding thing. Call it an interim album.

I think, if you're just being growly it can be a law of diminishing returns. We felt, more by accident than design, the flavour or this one should be a lot more textural, so we went for some things that were a bit slower, softer; a bit more emotional. There are a couple of rhythmic pieces on it but it's less 'grrr'.

I think that would be nice, to say 'yes, this isn't about ruralism or pastoralism, it's about emotion and dreams and visions and what we'd like things to be. It's saying that there's more to our vocabulary than 'god we're angry!' It just felt like some of those tracks fitted well together as a group. So that thing will be a little dreamier.

Talking of anger, that leads us nicely into your politics. 'One, Six, Nein' is the obvious starting point. I really like the manifesto - is that lifted from anywhere or did you write it?

I wrote it myself. One of my roles in the band is as the band writer, which is a weird thing to say. Most bands when they have a writer it tends to be the singer or the lyricist. What we've tried to do with instrumental stuff is hint that there's stuff behind it. There's a story to things. You try and suggest with the title or the atmosphere or adding sounds that nudge the listener in a certain way. We thought it would be nice to be a bit more overt with that in a couple of places. That was one of them.

I'd seen some of the Anonymous (hacktivist organisation) videos they'd done a couple of years ago. I really liked the way they did it - I always hated the music, it was a drag - but I liked the fact that they were going 'here's what's going to happen'. It's kind of funny, but also fairly disturbing. I thought I'd like to do something that sort of says what we feel; this is our stance, this is our position. But rather than be shouting it at the audience like some industrial band from the 80s, I wanted it to be a woman's voice. So it was nice to have a robot voice, but for it to be a female one. So it's like an anonymous, veiled voice, but rather than a guy being all blokey and gnarly and angry and tub-thumping with it, it's a woman saying... 'we're not about this stuff, and it's about time somebody said 'enough', but I'm not going to shout about it'. And that's the tone I wanted.

With the synthetic voice, was the intention to remove emotion? The emotion behind a human voice can often push the message. Was it conscious to remove that?

It's interesting what you're saying, because with the late punk period, post-punk, industrial et al, it almost became a pissing contest of who could make the veins on their neck stand out the most. 'I really mean this! I really do!' And you'd go to hardcore or industrial shows and you could measure people's commitment by how red their faces were. I'm not knocking it; it's cool that people fucking mean it. It's good. But I felt that there has to be an end point to stuff like that. And having me or one of the other guys screaming over some jarring noise is kind of... everybody's been there and done that, and I just felt it would make more sense to let go of the throttle, have a female voice - not sucked of emotion - but a bit flatter. Because in a weird way you're saying 'I am angry, but I'm not going to raise my voice'. And the fact that your not raising your voice is unsettling, but it also hints that there's this reservoir of anger that has chosen not to be expressed in yelling. It's meant to be a quiet statement of intent. Also, industrial and noise tends to be a male genre. Not exclusively so - it's great to go to noise and doom shows and see women there. I think it's about time we got a bit more fucking inclusive about all this - and I don't mean that in a patronising way.

Do you think anger is gendered?

No! It shouldn't be, but maybe we've got the impression that it is. Guys are seen as better at shouting, and they can pee higher in the loo and all that. There are loads of women out there who are great at expressing themselves. In the noise side of things it's something we want to play around with, so it's been really great getting someone like April Larson in - she's done a voiceover for us, and Colleen Nika is doing something. I think it just brings something else to the table. Especially when the women involved are not shouting - they're strong, cool women, and they're just saying what's what, and that adds another layer to it and I like that.

In music where the ideas are not put forward verbally, at what point is it agitprop?

I think in asking the question you were kind of answering it. I think, because [the message] tends to be tangled up in words, as manifestos and dialectics, it's probably the point at which people start saying stuff - i.e., singing it. So it's verbal heavy, it's lyric heavy.

Weirdly, we're not just about the politics. I think you can become one-dimensional. Everybody in the band has different worldviews, and Hacker Farm is where we intersect. It's the point in the middle. We could do songs, we could do things that have voiceovers all the time. We could do things where we just have screeds on the sleeve notes or whatever. But I think it's kind of cool and interesting to hold back on a lot of that stuff. I wouldn't want us to become a one-dimensional 'political' band. We've got a lot of things to say about all sorts of things. But bizarrely, I feel we say more when we say less. And it's not about being enigmatic or scared. I love music dearly, and the other two guys do too; we love all sorts of stuff. None of us are natural singers or anything like that. We're not saying the words are secondary, but to us the doing of the music has got a whole layer of importance to us anyway. We're very much about doing stuff and getting into the moment and trying to climb into the moment, and some of the times that have been best for all of us have been when we hit that - people call it 'the zone' or 'the sweet spot'.

Some times we'll play and hour/hour and a half and just totally lose it, and suddenly you'll look at the clock and go 'Jesus it's 4am! What the fuck?' But there'll be moments in there where stuff happens and you're listening to the other two guys and you become a unit, a group-mind kind of thing. You do stuff that you didn't think you could do as an individual. You do stuff interacting with the other guys that you never thought could happen. Sounds you never expected to make. You're listening; you're joining together. I know that sounds like hippie bullshit, but I think that's really important to us. That doing and that moment of being. And yes we've got messages, and some of it's political and some of it's just pragmatic - and that's part of the bundle and the package.

But the music's very important to us, so sometimes pulling back on the throttle and having less words lets the listener tune in a little bit.

So you really look forward to finding that moment where you become a musical hivemind?

Yeah. I mean, initially it was just myself and Farmer Glitch. A lot of the early stuff came from a couple of jams with just the two of us. We didn't know what the rules were initially. Are we supposed to be using drums? Are we doing this? What are we doing? We just brought stuff along and tried to find where we meshed. Bren was involved really early on, but he was doing other stuff. He was documenting us, making films, taking photos, helping us rig, building DIY PAs on the spot.

But in the studio space he was jamming with us. There were days when about half an hour in we only just realized there were three of us playing - we hadn't even realized he's joined. It was fabulous. And so it's just logical, we said 'shit man, you might as well start playing with us live'. He was doing a million and one other things that were all really important and we couldn't have existed without him doing those other things, but he wasn't playing live on stage as such until late last year.

And yeah, the best moments, and I know I'm going to sound like a hippie but I don't care, are when you go into that 'lose yourself' stuff, and I must admit that sometimes you just look at each other - and you don't know whether some of the sounds are what I'm making or it's one of the other guys doing it. 'Where the fuck's that coming from? And I start pushing buttons thinking 'shit, is that me?' I love that sense of... not being passive, not watching TV - It's self-indulgent, but it's fucking lovely.


UHF is available now from Exotic Pylon records.