With experimental noisenik Blanck Mass now fully ensconced in the ranks, Editors have gone bigger, deeper and darker into electro-industrial territory on their thrilling new long-player, ‘EBM’. Prepare to have your face melted…

Twenty years after they first formed at Staffordshire University, Editors are entering a fascinating new phase in their career. The latest regeneration comes exactly 10 years after the last one, when new musicians Justin Lockey and Elliott Williams were recruited following the acrimonious departure of guitarist Chris Urbanowicz.

There has been no such painful schism this time, but Editors are now officially a six-piece. Back in April, it was announced that electro-industrial drone merchant Benjamin John Power – aka Blanck Mass – was coming on board full-time, coinciding with the release of ‘Heart Attack’, a pulsating new single with a goth underbelly. Having worked with the band on and off for the last five years, he brings a fresh electronic impetus to a group who were already leaning boldly in that direction.

Editors’ latest album, ‘EBM’, is a brilliant play on the artists’ combined initials and the 1980s music genre, evoking Belgian outfits like Front 242 and à;GRUMH, Germany’s DAF and the UK’s Nitzer Ebb.

On the face of it, the addition of Blanck Mass to the line-up might look as bonkers as Johnny Marr joining The Cribs or Modest Mouse, or David Bowie forming Tin Machine, but as will become clear, it makes perfect sense in the development of this ever-evolving group. Based in Birmingham in the early days, Editors are now spread out across the country, coming together in Bristol to rehearse for their European tour.

“Obviously, we’ve been going for 10 years with this line-up,” says frontman Tom Smith. “We’ve made three records with Elliott and Justin, so this is the beginning of the third chapter now with Ben.”

He describes 2012 as “a funny year of highs and lows”. It was the year the group, whose original line-up comprised Smith, Urbanowicz, Russell Leetch and Ed Lay, tore itself apart.

“The end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012 were pretty shit. I can’t remember the exact timeline, but when we parted ways with Chris it was the end of 2011. We’d been trying to make our fourth record with producer Flood, and he said it was one of the hardest things he’s ever had to do in music. It just became darker and darker.

“We didn’t get to the end. We made the dramatic decision and then moved on without Chris. So yeah, it was grim.”

They eventually released a fairly straight rock record, 2013’s ‘The Weight Of Your Love’ – made with Nashville-based producer Jacquire King – although that now looks like a pitstop on a progressive electronic journey. Perhaps more important was a pre-booked date at the Rock Werchter festival in Belgium at the end of June 2012, the biggest show they’d ever played up to that point.

“Initially, we weren’t going to do it,” says Smith. “We were just going to take a year off and soul-search or whatever, but we decided to give it a go with the help of Justin and Elliott. And then the year was geared around trying to get together to make Werchter happen.”

The new line-up was received by 80,000 enthusiastic fans in a show that was, in Smith’s words, “incredible”. And it represented the moment where the group would begin to receive more acclaim outside of Britain than in it.

“We still do OK in the UK, although our relevance as a band kind of stopped there,” he says with a shrug. “But in mainland Europe, we were really taken to heart. It kind of marks the point where Europe became a lot more significant than the UK for us, certainly regarding our cultural relevance. From then on, our place on the radar and in the press at home definitely took a step down. But in Europe, it exploded.”

Some 27 days after Editors played Rock Werchter, Blanck Mass was enjoying his own moment in the sun. His band, Fuck Buttons, a niche but well-loved duo from Bristol, were suddenly being seen by 900 million viewers around the world via the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. The director of the spectacle, Oscar-winner Danny Boyle, had given his musical directors Underworld a simple brief: “Frighten people”.

It must have been a life-changing moment, I suggest to Power, who’s speaking to me from Edinburgh.
“Yeah, yeah,” he replies. “My mum took me seriously for a second.”

The inclusion of Fuck Buttons grabbed headlines, especially as their 2009 single, ‘Surf Solar’, came so early and prominently in the proceedings. For Power personally, though, Blanck Mass’ ‘Sundowner’, augmented by none other than the London Symphony Orchestra, was the pinnacle. He felt it augured well.

“It did seem very strange that something which had started off as a kind of pure noise project could end up in a place like the Olympics’ opening ceremony,” he says. “But I think more interesting for me was the Blanck Mass involvement. These were songs I had written in my tiny flat in Dalston. I didn’t have a connection with any kind of orchestra. I’d envisaged this record as orchestral pieces, but I didn’t have the means to actualise it. I tried my best to replicate it electronically, but not with a sample pack – more in an experimental solo orchestral way, if that makes sense. And then seeing it performed by the London Symphony Orchestra gave me a bit of hope for the future of my career. It was huge, and I was really just a kid.”

While both Editors and Blanck Mass have gone from strength to strength since 2012, collectively and now together, it could be argued that the country responsible for the coolest opening ceremony ever – unquestionably so from a musical point of view – has since gone to the dogs. Ten years later, we’re all in a very different place.

Now that both outfits have merged, Editors’ radical change of direction must have disturbed some of the original fanbase. Take the Phase Fatale remix of ‘Heart Attack’ with a Felix Geen-assisted AI video – definitely not one for the faint-hearted. You could say it’s a long way from their 2005 single, ‘Munich’, although Smith gleefully reports that in Germany, fans prefer it when they bring the techno.

Photo: Rahi Rezvani

Much of the self-congratulatory spirit of 2012 – when Britain basked in the glow of the international spotlight – was wrecked by the divisive EU referendum four years later. Some of the lyrics on ‘EBM’ reflect that change, such as the line, “Can you feel the broken nation?” on ‘Strawberry Lemonade’, or the refrain, “Don’t educate” on ‘Educate’. Is ‘EBM’ a more political record than previous offerings?

“There are a few lines aimed at post-Brexit Britain and the frustration of it,” says Smith. “You’ve said the country has gone to shit, and I agree with you. It’s a pretty awful place out there and has been for years. So there is a little bit of anger in that direction, absolutely.

“I think with any kind of creative endeavour at the moment, it’s difficult not to be at least a bit politically motivated,” adds Power. “It takes over a great deal of our collective psyche and it’s very difficult to separate the two. When I first started making music, it seemed like a much more carefree place to be. That’s probably very easy for somebody like me to say – at the time, I was young. Now, it’s much harder to get away from external politics. It’s an all-encompassing part of being a human being today.”

While there might be a little bit of politics, ‘EBM’ is more a record that represents escapism, and there’s a visceral yearning in the music that can be explained by the two years we’ve all just been through.

The title was originally intended for another big Editors show in 2020. The group had been booked to play a large festival in Europe and were to perform two sets, including what Smith describes as a “one-off bespoke evening” – a nighttime extravaganza where much of their recognised back catalogue would be reworked with the dancefloor in mind.

It made sense to call upon Blanck Mass, who’d provided a creative pulse to their 2018 album ‘Violence’, produced by Leo Abrahams. They’d then worked together again more overtly in 2019 on ‘The Blanck Mass Sessions’, which was a reworking of the ‘Violence’ tracks, plus ‘Barricades’ – the first song the two artists did together.

The festival never happened, becoming another casualty of the pandemic. But what had started as a reworking exercise bore new tunes. Power threw himself into his work, addressing grief on the deeply personal sound tapestry that would become 2021’s ‘In Ferneaux’, as well as scoring a couple of TV series.

In this maelstrom of productivity, he was also sending song ideas to the band electronically. Until then, he’d either written alone or as Fuck Buttons, where he and Andrew Hung would do everything in a room together.

“That process worked between me and Andy because there were only two of us, and there wasn’t really a set role for either of us,” says Power. “With Editors, it’s a band and people have more defined roles, so it’s less drama if you can home in on what your role is.”

Working remotely was strange for everybody, and Power says, “We all just kind of gritted our teeth and got on with it”.

For Smith, it was stranger still.

“On every record up to this point, all of the songs started with me,” he says. “Either sitting at the piano or with an acoustic guitar. With this, I’m being served up musical demos with the chords and a lot of the key melodies already there. So my job now is probably more decoration, and finding a way to make my voice work in a completely different way to how it normally would.

“It was fun, but it was very unlike any other Editors record. It made me more playful in how I used my voice to make it work with the electronica.”

Belgian techno is a clear inspiration, and other well-known influences make it into the mix too, especially the twangy guitar on the outro of the excellent ‘Kiss’.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a Depeche Mode fan, and I think that goes for everybody in the band,” says Power. “I’m sure a bit of that creeps in just because of your taste. It wasn’t a conscious decision to try to do something in that vein. It was more just that we find ourselves in a position to be able to experiment and basically do whatever the fuck we like.”

“We did three or four festivals with The Cure a few years ago, and Justin is definitely using his chorus pedal more now,” jokes Smith. “If you canvassed casual opinion among Editors fans about what Ben brings to the table, there’d be an assumption that he brings the ugly, and it’s so not true.

“Don’t get me wrong, he does do that, but so much melody comes from him as well. So it really isn’t the way people think it is at all. I’d be interested to hear what they assume the process was versus what the reality is.”

Power originally met Editors through Justin Lockey when they both played in the Mogwai-affiliated supergroup, Minor Victories. He counts himself as an Editors fan and struck up strong friendships with members of the group, which often ended up in blowouts in Edinburgh.

Power admits he had an inclination that they might ask him to join them eventually, though he had concerns about the group’s size rather than any suggestion that they couldn’t meld musically.

“It’s a little bit intimidating, if I’m being quite honest,” admits Power. “It’s such a well-oiled machine and they play in front of thousands of people all the time, doing these huge, huge shows. But I wasn’t privy to the conversations the boys must have had about whether they wanted to bring in the weirdo or not.”

Smith says Editors were listening to the Blanck Mass album ‘World Eater’ before they made ‘Violence’, and could hear the musical overlap back then. Power fits right in both as a friend and collaborator, and his inclusion is a logical development that looks set to bear plenty more fruit in the future.

“‘World Eater’ is obviously quite confrontational and full-on, but there are pockets of melody that just made utter sense to me,” enthuses Smith. “Even back then, listening to these kinds of records – which are obviously instrumental for the most part and I guess are less accessible than Editors’ – I could hear the potential of future years coming together. It’s cool that it continues to develop and progress.”

‘EBM’ is out on Play It Again Sam

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